Georgia pitchers must bear down to prevent season’s collapse

Credit: Kari Hodges

Credit: Kari Hodges

ATHENS — The status of the Georgia Bulldogs’ baseball season has reached DEFCON 2, and it will rise to DEFCON 1 if they can’t turn things around the next couple of weeks.

The Bulldogs (15-10, 1-5 SEC) were embarrassed at home 12-2 by Georgia Southern (13-12) on Wednesday night at Foley Field. Their demise was the same as it has been all season – pitiful pitching.

And pitiful might not be a strong enough word. It’s colossally bad.

Though Wednesday’s game was the proverbial “staff night” for Georgia pitching, it stood as a classic example of the Bulldogs’ fundamental issues on the mound this season. First and foremost, they simply can’t get the ball across the plate.

Georgia pitchers walked 10 Georgia Southern batters. Three other Eagles were hit by pitches for a total of 13 free passes.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that wasn’t an anomaly of a staff night in which they used 11 pitchers. Twenty-four games into the season, it has proven an unwavering trend.

Georgia has allowed 126 walks in 24 games. That’s 5.25 per outing and stands 13th in the SEC. Add in the Bulldogs hit by pitches (37), which is the most in the league, and it’s starkly evident where the team’s shortcoming is.

Thirteenth in the SEC is a common denominator for Georgia’s pitching staff. That’s where they rank in earned runs allowed (146), runs allowed (159), earned-run average (6.06), walks allowed (126) and wild pitches (26).

Thank goodness for Mississippi State, which ranks dead last in all those categories. However, Georgia is 14th in hit batters (37) and balks (4).

The responsibility for the Bulldogs’ pitchers falls on Sean Kenny, who entered his sixth season as Georgia’s pitching coach. But ultimately it falls on the shoulders of 10th-year coach Scott Stricklin.

“We gave them too many free bases,” Stricklin told reporters after the game. “Sometimes, it can be contagious. Certainly with a team like Georgia Southern, you can’t give them free bases because they play small ball and they put pressure on you.”

The loss kept the Bulldogs from clinching the season’s series against the Eagles (13-12). Georgia beat them three weeks by the scores of 17-11 and 9-4.

Now Georgia heads to Nashville to face the No. 4-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores (20-5, 6-0), who enter the three-game series that starts Friday at 6 p.m. on an eight-game win streak. The Bulldogs’ Friday and Saturday starters, Jaden Woods and Liam Sullivan, have proved to be up to the task against SEC competition. The problem has been when they have been lifted from games, Georgia’s bullpen has been unable to hold leads.

Meanwhile, Stricklin and Kenney have been desperately searching for a No. 3 starter. Earlier, that role was being handled by senior Nolan Crisp, who has struggled. Last week they went with freshman Kolten Smith, who was able to give the Bulldogs enough to get into Auburn’s bullpen on the way to a 24-3 victory.

However, Smith started Wednesday’s game and only lasted one inning, giving up a pair of doubles, a walk and two earned runs.

“We have to turn the page quickly,” Stricklin said. “It doesn’t get any easier. We certainly have to play better. We’ve got to get out of the gates better.”

The Bulldogs must pitch better, in particular.