Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Starting pitching developing well for UMass

By Scott Cournoyer

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The name of the game in baseball is starting pitching.

It was three games, three starters and three quality outings for the Massachusetts baseball team this weekend, as it took two out of three games against Albany on Saturday and Sunday.

“You have to have good starting pitching,” said UMass coach Mike Stone following Sunday’s second game of a doubleheader. “It gives you the best chance to win, and we got some good starts this weekend.”

Dennis Torres took the ball for the Minutemen Saturday, tossing eight innings of one-run ball to pick up his second victory of the season. He allowed eight hits and one walk while striking out six to give UMass its first home win this spring.

“It just felt good to be back home,” said Torres of his first home start Saturday.

Torres has been a lightning rod for the starting rotation in 2012, getting more and more acclimated to the role of pitching, a job relatively new for the junior right-hander. In his first collegiate season in 2011, Torres showed glimpses of his upside, striking out 31 batters in 46 innings of work.

Senior Glen Misho followed Torres’ stellar performance on Sunday in the first game of a doubleheader. Misho went seven innings deep for UMass, striking out seven while allowing three hits and one walk. Misho, the anchor of the team’s pitching staff, grabbed his first victory of 2012 in the process.

“It all starts with the guys on the mound,” said Misho of the run of quality starts the rotation has put together as of late. “I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far.”

Senior Joe Popielarczyk, eager to make it three consecutive quality starts for the staff, held his own. He went 6.2 innings for the Minutemen, allowing two earned runs off four hits while striking out eight and walking two.

“I was just trying to attack the zone,” said Popielarczyk following his outing on Sunday. “My fastball and slider were good. It always feels good when you know the defense is making plays behind you, and they did.”

Popielarczyk has been more than reliable for the staff this spring. Going into this weekend’s series against Albany, he stood at 2-0 with a 0.92 ERA, striking out 16 batters over 19.2 innings of work.

“I’m just trying to stay confident [in my abilities on the mound],” said Popielarczyk in his improvements this year from the previous. “I’m just trying to have fun…I know it’s ending soon, so I’m trying to take advantage of it.”

In 2011, with a young rotation and inexperienced bullpen, UMass was unable to win close games. Starters couldn’t get deep into outings, and the bullpen was taxed, resulting in inconsistencies.

This spring, so far, things are looking very different. Entering this weekend, the staff compiled a sub-three-and-half ERA (3.47), while keeping its opponents’ batting average at a steady .248.

The key factor for the Minutemen come Atlantic-10 play will be how the staff shakes out. The bullpen is lead by Leif Sorenson and Ben Hart, veterans that have experience closing out games. It’ll all be about how the starters can get the ball to them.

“I definitely feel confident,” said Torres of the younger guys on the staff that will be needed for success as the season grinds onward. “There’s a lot of talent, and I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.

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