UMass baseball still slumping at the plate

Timely hitting eludes UMass, particularly with runners in scoring position


(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Haines, Collegian Staff

Four times in Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to Siena, the Massachusetts baseball team got the leadoff hitter on base. Three times, that runner was stranded.

UMass (10-17, 3-9 Atlantic 10) only scored in the eighth, when Marcus Fry hit an RBI single after Alec Norton’s double led off the inning. The other three times, including Ryan Lever’s double to lead off the third, the Minutemen could not hit the ball well enough to get the run home.

The lowest moment came in the sixth inning, when Logan Greene stroked a leadoff single up the middle before the Minutemen went down on three straight strikeouts.

“It’s tough because we get what we want,” coach Matt Reynolds said. “We got a guy in scoring position with nobody out, a lot of times we had the meat of our order coming up, and we just couldn’t get it done.”

UMass managed at least one baserunner in every inning, finishing with eight hits but leaving 11 runners on base. The Minutemen put a runner on second base in seven different innings, three times with fewer than two outs, but finished the day 1-12 with runners in scoring position.

Losers of 11 of its last 12, UMass has struggled to string hits together over the past two weeks. Over the first month of the season, the Minutemen averaged 5.7 runs per game, but since April 6, that number has dropped to 2.4 runs per game.

Since then, UMass has also averaged seven runners left on base.

“The answer to that is for us to start hitting the baseball better,” Reynolds said. “That’s really all there is to it.”

On Wednesday, Siena had more hits than UMass but fewer extra-base hits. The difference was that Siena’s two doubles both came with runners on, while the Minutemen’s three doubles were hit with the bases empty.

Siena also brought home three unearned runs, scoring once on a sacrifice fly and laying down two sacrifice bunts. Both bunts resulted in UMass errors.

As Wednesday’s game wore on, the Minutemen looked to bunt more, but mostly as a way of generating baserunners. Reynolds’ philosophy rarely calls for sacrifice bunts, and despite the recent offensive struggles, that seems unlikely to change.

“I don’t necessarily know that it’s a great time to sacrifice in that situation because now you’re giving away another out,” Reynolds said. “And we’re struggling at the plate anyhow, so we need all the outs we can get.”

Going into the season, UMass projected to have very little power, so the Minutemen hoped to compensate with sharp contact and timely hitting. The sharp contact has held true – in addition to Wednesday’s eight hits, several more hard-hit balls went straight at a Saints fielder – but UMass has been unable to get hits with the game on the line.

After Wednesday, the Minutemen dropped to seven games below .500. More than halfway through the season now, sitting 10th out of 14 teams in the A-10, this weekend’s series with La Salle looms large. UMass urgently needs to turn the offense around to save Reynolds’ first season.

“If I had a sign that produced a double in the gap, or a single,” Reynolds said, “that would be the sign.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected]and followed on Twitter @thainessports.