Part 1 of our preview series on the 2020 Mountaineers baseball team. Check out the rest of the series below as we countdown to opening day this Friday. You can see their entire schedule here.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Among all the players that left West Virginia after last season, it is the departures from the mound that could end up being the hardest to replace.
Three of the Mountaineer’s four starting pitchers were selected in last year’s MLB draft, a testament to how many talented throwers WVU had on the mound last season and how difficult it could be to replace their production.
West Virginia’s ace last season was unquestionably Alek Manoah. the 6-foot-6 right-hander led the Big 12 with a 2.08 earned run average and was taken 11th overall by the Toronto Blue Jays. Lefty Nick Snyder finished third in the conference with a 2.65 ERA and was drafted in the 11th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Finally, there was Kade Strowd who had a 4.73 ERA in 15 starts and was taken by the Baltimore Orioles in the 12th round.
With that trio leading the way, the Mountaineers had the lowest earned run average (3.70) and opponent batting average (.218) in the entire conference. Those three alone accounted for nearly half of West Virginia’s innings pitched in 2019 (260 of 528.1, 49.2%).
Head coach Randy Mazey will have to work with some combination of returners and newcomers to pitch those innings in 2020. Two players he is looking at in the starting rotation are junior Jackson Wolf and sophomore Ryan Bergert.
The lefty Wolf is the only returning player on the team who started more than 2 games for the Mountaineers last season. Wolf pitched in 15 games, making 13 starts with a 2-4 record. He had a 5.17 earned run average in 69.2 innings with 50 strikeouts and 31 walks. He also had a 1.59 WHIP and gave up eight home runs. Wolf pitched 24.1 innings as a freshman with a 4.07 ERA.
Berget, a right-hander, started two games last season, appearing out of the bullpen in 15 others. Bergert had a 2-0 record in 34 innings with a 1.85 ERA. He showed impressive control, racking up 38 strikeouts to only eight walks. His .91 WHIP was tied with Manoah for the best on the team.
“Ryan Bergert needs to be a workhorse for us,” Mazey said. “He had a great summer and pitched really well for us at the end of last season so hopefully he’s going to be a guy that every time out can give you seven-plus innings. He’s a strike-thrower with some quality pitches. Between him and Wolf, those are the guys that are capable, we think if they get hot, of winning eight to 10 games.”
Another candidate to start this season is Louisiana righty Haden Erbe, who transferred to WVU this season after two years at Seminole State College. Last season he had an 8-3 record with a 4.40 ERA in 77.2 innings. He also had 72 strikeouts and was the ninth-ranked junior-college player in the nation.
Out of the bullpen, Mazey is welcoming the return of senior Braden Zarbnisky from injury. A two-way player, Zarbnisky has pitched 103.1 innings in his WVU career. The righty missed all of 2019 due to injury but pitched 37 innings in 2018 with a 4.62 ERA. He had 35 strikeouts to 15 walks with a pair of saves.
“One thing he’s not going to do is get rattled if you flip him the ball in the ninth inning,” Mazey said. “So it’s really, really nice to have him back.”
Mazey said there are five or six arms in the bullpen he feels confident turning the ball over to.
Senior Dillon Meadows made the third-most appearances out of the WVU bullpen (17) last season. Meadows pitched 24 innings out of the bullpen with a 5.63 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He struck out 30 and walked 11 with two saves.
True freshmen in 2019, righty Zach Ottinger, righty Brock Helverson, lefty Beau Lowery and righty Madison Jeffrey combined to makes 50 appearances out of the WVU bullpen last year.
Ottinger pitched 20 innings with a 4.50 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP. He struck out 19 compared to just eight walks. Helverson pitched 16 innings, making one start. He had a 6.75 ERA and 1.75 WHIP with 14 strikeouts and 11 walks. Lowery pitched 13.2 innings with a 4.61 ERA. He had a 1.97 WHIP with 14 strikeouts and 11 walks. Jeffrey pitched 11 innings with a 6.55 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. He struck out and walked 12.
The 2020 WVU baseball season starts on Feb. 14 with a three-game series against Jacksonville in Florida. The Mountaineers will play the earliest home game in program history this season with a game against Canisius at Monongalia County Ballpark on Feb. 18.