Pitching has been a source of strength for the St. Bonaventure baseball team in recent years.
In each of the past two years, the Bonnies have ranked in the Atlantic 10's top four in staff ERA, including a national top 10 ranking in 2016.
If the Bonnies are to reclaim some of their recent success, they will likely call on their pitching to be at the head of the charge once again in 2017.
While there are many new faces around the diamond this season for the Brown and White, the team brings back several returners on the mound it expects big things from in 2018.
"I think the pitching staff could be the strength of the team," head coach Larry Sudbrook said.
After losing seven of nine position players to either graduation or the MLB Draft, the Bonnies pitching staff will need to be strong again this spring.
The Bonnies lose last year's Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year Aaron Phillips who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the ninth round of the 2017 MLB Draft, but senior Brandon Schlimm fits the mold of an ace and could again be one of the A-10's top pitchers this season.
Schlimm enters the year as one of the program's top pitchers in the modern era, ranking third in career ERA (3.38) and 10th in innings pitched (213.1). Though limited by injury last season, he returned late in the year and regained form with a 3.13 ERA in five A-10 starts. As a sophomore, he earned all-conference honors by posting seven wins with a 2.11 ERA including a 1.85 ERA in eight A-10 starts.
"Brandon could've gone high in the draft last year if not for the injury issues. He didn't have anything major to cause any surgery, but had some tendinitis issues," Sudbrook said. "Right now he appears healthy and strong. He's throwing as hard and as well as he did as a sophomore. If he can be at the top of the staff and you don't have to push everybody up a notch, then he's going to give us a chance to compete every time he takes the mound."
Sophomore Casey Vincent figures to take the No. 2 spot in the conference rotation after earning a spot on the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team in his first season. He finished the year with 51 strikeouts in 70.1 innings, making 12 starts and finishing with a 4.99 ERA.
"Casey had some big wins, he beat a very good Rhode Island team here, but like most freshmen was inconsistent," Sudbrook said. "But, he can pitch. He's a guy with three solid Division I pitches. We think if we can keep him in that No. 2 spot, we could be pretty solid there and able to compete."
The No. 3 slot in the rotation is up for grabs with several different pitchers vying for the position during the team's spring trip to Florida.
Senior Roman Wild has impressed the coaches during the offseason after going 3-4 with a 4.91 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 29.1 innings out of the bullpen last season. Wild was one of the most-used relievers on the squad last year, making 22 appearances, but did not make a start. If he doesn't win a starting role, Sudbrook figures to use Wild as the team's closer. "He's been throwing very well and worked very hard in the offseason," the reigning Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year assessed.
Lefty Nate Grant is also in the mix after returning from an injury that cost him nearly all of last year. Primarily a reliever during his Bonnies tenure, he has made 44 appearances over the past three seasons. Sophomore Murphy O'Brien could win the spot as well after pitching in 15 games including four starts as a freshman, striking out 23 over 33.2 innings and holding opponents to a .248 batting average against.
A potential surprise is freshman Braydon Nelson who has been impressive in preseason. The 6-4 right-handed product of Brecksville, Ohio posted an ERA of just over 1.00 at Saint Ignatius High School and has been consistently throwing 87-89 mph during preseason workouts.
"That three spot will probably be decided down in Florida," Sudbrook said.
In the bullpen, the team returns sophomore left-hander Donovan Moffat, who was also on the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team last year after setting the program appearances record by throwing in 28 games. Moffat registered a 3-1 record, four saves and 3.96 ERA while holding lefties to an .031 batting average against. "He can get right-handers out as well because he has a very good backdoor curveball so he's not just a left-handed specialist," Sudbrook said.
Redshirt sophomore James Wetter compiled a 3.65 ERA and limited opponents to a .234 batting average against in his Bonnies debut last year with a standout changeup. He has the ability to throw multiple innings of relief and isn't out of the starting rotation equation either.
Brian Pulli (1-0, 2.45) also saw work out of the bullpen last season and pitched in summer ball for the Olean Oilers. Redshirt junior Ben Contento will work his way back after missing all of last year due to Tommy John surgery after making 27 appearances over his first two seasons. Also back on the roster but new to potentially joining the pitching staff is senior Micah Riddick who was primarily used as an outfielder in the past but has the ability to hit 90-91 mph on the radar gun.
The team welcomes redshirt sophomore transfer Michael Krauza, a hard thrower could see his role grow as the season continues. A pair of Virginian right-handed freshmen could also log innings this season in Joshua Pittman and Tyler Germanowski, who Sudbrook says is potentially the hardest thrower on the roster.
Along with Phillips, the Bonnies also lost Danny Urban, T.J. Baker and Scott Jerge to graduation off last year's staff.
"If Brandon stays healthy, I think our pitching will make us competitive. The concern will be scoring, but in a perfect world to be able to compete while we are rebuilding that would be nice," Sudbrook said. "That would be the goal while we are rebuilding after losing four senior starters and three junior starters."
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