The 2021 college baseball season has thus far not gone the way West Virginia nor starting pitcher Jake Carr would have liked. The Mountaineers were ranked as high as No. 14 in some preseason polls a few months ago and yet are just treading water with a 13-14 record so far.
A big reason that WVU was ranked high in some preseason polls was its starting pitching. Through 27 games, however, WVU starting pitchers are 6-10 with a 6.71 ERA. The ace of the staff, left-handed senior Jackson Wolf, has performed well with a 3.05 ERA in seven starts, but the rest of the rotation has been a mess to start the year. Starters other than Wolf are just 3-7 with a 9.09 ERA this season.
“We need somebody else to step up and give us some starts,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said after defeating Marshall Wednesday night. “It’s no secret that starting pitching is the key to this.”
WVU’s biggest problem has been starters that were solid last season are not contributing this year. Right-hander Ryan Bergert went 2-1 with a 2.92 ERA last season but will miss all of 2021 after having offseason surgery. Left-hander Jake Carr was 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA as a true freshman in 2020 but began this season by allowing 27 runs in his first six appearances.
“He was just pitching up in the strike zone,” Mazey said of Carr’s struggles. “Some guys have a fastball that’s conducive to being able to pitch up in the strike zone, but Jake’s not that guy. He’s a two-seam fastball guy with sink and run on his ball and he just can’t pitch up in the zone like the other guys.”
After being removed from WVU’s starting rotation last month, Carr (1-2, 11.63) has started to return to form, allowing just one run in his last eight innings spanning three appearances. He picked up his first win of the season, pitching four innings of one-run ball in WVU’s win over Marshall Wednesday.
“It was good to see him go out there and throw up some zeroes and get some of his pitches back,” Mazey said. “He looked a little bit like the Jake Carr of old tonight after the first inning.”
Carr, a sophomore from St. Albans, West Virginia, pitched a scoreless inning in relief against Pitt last week and three scoreless innings in relief against Baylor over the weekend before getting that start against the Thundering Herd.
“We’ve made a conscious effort here in the last couple of weeks to get his fastball below the belt and thrown on the knees and when he does that, he gets a lot of ground balls,” Mazey explained. “It’s starting to come for him, he’s starting to get a little more confidence and starting to spin his curveball a little bit more. He’s trending in the right direction for sure.”
Other than Wolf (seven starts) and Carr (five), WVU’s other main starters this season have been Adam Tulloch (six starts) and freshman Ben Hampton (four).
Tulloch (0-3, 7.03) has put up sky-high strikeout numbers so far with a 13.7 K/9 but has been bitten by walks (4.8 BB/9) and home runs (three), leading to an inflated earned run average. Hampton (3-0, 3.10) had a great start to the year, allowing just one run in his first 11 2/3 innings, but has given up three runs in each of his last two starts.
WVU will host No. 7 Texas Tech for a three-game series this weekend with Wolf, Tulloch and Hampton expected to start. A return to form by Carr would not only help solidify WVU’s starting rotation but could also give the Mountaineers back a strength they have been missing this season.