Diamond Dogs need pitching staff to step up

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Back half of rotation struggling during SEC play

ATHENS — Just two weekends into SEC play, the Georgia baseball team finds itself at a crossroads.

The Bulldogs have a major pitching problem. They feature one of the best hurlers in the SEC – and maybe in the country – in Friday night starter Jonathan Cannon. But after him and reliever Jaden Woods, the drop-off has been cavernous.

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That was on vivid display again this past weekend in frigid Lexington, Ky. Cannon and Woods rolled through Kentucky’s lineup on Friday to the tune of 11 strikeouts and zero walks in a 4-2 win. The victory saw Cannon’s record improve to 5-1 (1.96 ERA) with 43 strikeouts in 41 ⅓ innings, and Georgia’s record went to 18-4 (3-1 SEC).

Then the bottom dropped out.

The Wildcats feasted on UGA’s pitching the rest of the weekend. The Bulldogs gave up 28 runs on 29 hits in the next two games to fall to 18-6 overall and 3-3 in SEC play. Kentucky (17-8, 2-4) had been winless in conference play before then.

“We've got what we've got, and they've got to step up. They've got the uniform on, they've been recruited here to play college baseball and they need to get their jobs done."

- Bulldogs coach Scott Stricklin, on his pitching staff

It didn’t help matters that temperatures barely got out of the 30s all weekend. But that certainly didn’t excuse the performance for coach Scott Stricklin.

“We didn’t get it done,” Stricklin said Sunday. “I thought the elements beat us as much as the other team. We have to be tougher than that, and we have to be able to overcome that.”

The fact is, injuries have taken a toll on Georgia’s rotation. Sunday starter Dylan Ross and Will Childers are out for the year with arm injuries. Meanwhile, No. 2 starter Liam Sullivan has been out longer than expected with arm soreness.

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The Bulldogs have turned to Garrett Brown, Luke Wagner and, most recently, redshirt sophomore Bryce Melear. They’ve been getting lit up. Michael Polk and Nolan Crisp have had some good outings in relief but finding another reliable starter has proven fleeting.

Whatever the answers are, Stricklin and pitching coach Sean Kenny are urgently seeking them for what already sets up as a challenging week. The Bulldogs play host to Georgia Southern (17-7) Tuesday at 6 p.m., then welcome No. 9 Florida (17-7, 3-3) for a three-game set that will run Thursday through Saturday.

The Bulldogs are expected to keep Cannon in his Friday night spot, so the question is who might take the mound Thursday. Sullivan (2-1, 3.68), a big lefty, would be the perfect answer. He threw a bullpen session Sunday, but his availability remains unclear heading into the week.

“It’s trending in the right direction, but we don’t know right now,” Stricklin said on his postgame radio show Sunday. “We’re optimistic, but we want to make sure. He’s got to face some hitters first, and the first hitters he faces probably shouldn’t be wearing another uniform. So, it might be another week, but it is trending in the right direction.”

Whether Sullivan can go or not, Stricklin was adamant that Georgia’s remaining pitchers have the ability to answer the challenge.

“We’ve got what we’ve got, and they’ve got to step up,” Stricklin said. “They’ve got the uniform on, they’ve been recruited here to play college baseball and they need to get their jobs done.”

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