Baseball Preview: ECU Pirates

After winning their fifth straight series to start the season (and sixteenth going back to last year) last week against #6 Rice, Fullerton will be heading out on the road to Greenville, NC, home of the East Carolina Pirates. After being swept at Goodwin Field and scoring only one run in three games in blustery conditions last year, the Pirates will be looking for revenge.

ECU is 8-6 on the season after winning 7-4 at home against North Carolina A&T on Tuesday and enters the series having won 7 of their last 8 games, all at home. ECU got off to a slow start at 2-5, including being swept at UCLA, before going on their current streak. The Pirates are an experienced team that returns six of their nine regular position players and three of their four weekend starting pitchers from last season

LINEUP

ECU has struggled at times offensively this season after losing their two leading HR hitters from last season, who combined for 27 HR's and 107 RBI's. ECU has hit 7 HR's in 11 home games and have been a very scrappy bunch. The Pirates were able to put together enough offense last weekend against Pepperdine's Barry Enright to win 5-4 and N.C. State's Andrew Brackman (probable 1st round pick in June) to score 4 runs and knock him out of the game after 5 innings, only to end up losing to the Wolfpack 5-4. ECU will run the bases, averaging better than a SB per game with 16 SB's in 13 games prior to stealing 7 on Tuesday against NC A&T. The Pirates will bunt a little (10 SAC's) but it's not a major part of their offense. The lineup is mostly right-handed, although their first two hitters are left-handed (Harrison Eldridge, Brandon Henderson) along with cleanup hitter Ryan Tousley.

C - Corey Kemp (RH, JR) and David Forbes (RH, SR) share the catching position. Both are newcomers to the program and have big shoes to fill in replacing Johnny Bench Award winner Jake Smith. Both are struggling at the plate, combining to hit .200 for the season. Kemp is patient at the plate and will take a walk (one of the team leaders with 8 BB's) and has also played quite a bit at 3B. Forbes has a little more pop in his bat with 2 HR's but isn't as good of a defensive catcher (9-10 SB's) as Kemp is (4-7 SB's). Both have done a good job blocking pitches as ECU has only allowed 4 wild pitches on the season.

1B - Brandon Henderson (RH, Soph) and Stephen Batts (RH, Soph). Both of these players will also play some at other positions (Henderson at LF or DH, Batts at 3B). Both have been among the best hitters for ECU this season with batting averages over .340. Henderson has been the leading power hitter for ECU with 4 HR's and 11 RBI's. Batts hasn't hit an HR but is 2nd on the team with 9 RBI's. Both will usually hit in the middle of the lineup. Both hit over .320 last year but neither hit for much power (Henderson had 4 HR's, Batts 1 HR).

2B - Ryan Wood (RH, Soph). Wood doesn't provide much pop with the bat or speed on the bases ('07 - .258-0-1-2 and '06 - .289-3-23-2). Usually hits 9th in the lineup. He has also struggled some defensively (11 E's last year, 3 this year).

SS - Dale Mollenhauer (LH, JR). Mollenhauer has batted 2nd for ECU in every game and has been one of the leaders for them offensively. Good range at SS but will make some errors (21 last year, 2 this year). '07 - .333 -1-9-2 and '06 - 7-30-6.

3B - ECU has platooned a bunch of guys here - Kemp (5 starts), Broc Sutton (LH, FR, 4 starts), Drew Schieber (RH, Soph, 3 starts) and Batts (2 starts). Scheiber also started 3 games at 2B earlier this year and leads ECU with 5 SB's but doesn't have much pop in his bat ('07 - .320-1-2-5; '06 - .245-0-9-3). Sutton is hitting .118. These players have combined to make 8 errors so this could be an area that Fullerton looks to take advantage of.

LF/RF - Ryan Tousley (LH, SR) and Jamie Ray (RH, JR) have played these two positions most of the time, with Henderson also playing a few games in LF. Tousley usually bats cleanup and Ray usually bats down in the order (7th most of the time). Tousley has been solid with the bat ('07 - .306-1-7-2; '06 - 285-6-29-3) but Ray has struggled ('07 - .167-0-1-1; '06 - .300-1-14-6).

CF - Harrison Eldridge (LH, JR). Has hit leadoff every game, scrapper, good at getting on base (.466 OBP), sets the table for ECU's offense. Good range in CF. '07 - .362-2-7-2; '06 - .336-2-26-12.

DH - Jake Dean (LH, SR) has gotten most of the time here (7 starts) with Henderson and Batts also getting some time at DH. Dean hit ok last year but has struggled this year. '07 - .148-0-2-0; '06 - .311-2-17-3.

PITCHING

ECU struggled with their pitching staff earlier this season (especially their 3rd SP spot) but has gotten better pitching lately, allowing 25 runs during their 9 game homestand. ECU's 3 SP's have settled in and they have gotten good work out of their bullpen.

Friday SP - T.J. Hose (RHP, JR, 2-2, 4.70). Hose was in the weekend rotation for ECU most of last season before having arm problems during the last month of the season. His record was 3-4 with a 3.88 ERA in 11 starts. Hose struggled in his first two starts, allowing 10 R's (7 ER) in 9 IP before pitching better his last two starts, allowing 5 R's over 14 IP. He has pretty good control and will try to get ahead early in the count, keep the ball down and get hitters to chase pitches in the dirt. Fullerton scored 5 R's in 6 IP against Hose last year.

Sat SP - Dustin Sasser (LHP, JR, 1-0, 2.91). Sasser is the typical "crafty lefty" and was also in the weekend rotation for ECU last year, going 5-7 in 16 starts with an ERA of 4.55. Sasser has been pretty solid in all four of his starts this year but not dominant in any of them. He has kept his team in the game, going 5-6 IP in all four starts, and letting the bullpen finish things off. Fullerton scored 6 R's (5 ER) in 3 2/3 IP against Sasser last year.

Sun SP - ECU has played on 4 weekends and used a different 3rd SP each time. But, it looks like ECU might have found their Sunday SP with the most recent performance. Josh Dowdy (RHP, Soph, 0-1, 1.84) has had two good starts thus far (1 a midweek start) and will get the ball again on Sunday. In Dowdy's start against Western Carolina, he allowed 2 R's in 8 IP. He has had good control, allowing 2 BB's in 14 2/3 IP, and has been tough to hit, allowing only 6 hits for a .122 batting average. Dowdy was a middle reliever for ECU last year, pitching 24 innings. He allowed 0 R's on 1 H in 1 2/3 IP against Fullerton.

Relievers - ECU has a pretty deep bullpen with four pitchers already making at least five appearances. The Pirates closer is Shane Mathews (RHP, JR, 0-2, 4.50 ERA, 3 saves). Mathews was one of ECU's weekend SP's last year (5-3, 4.73 ERA, 14 starts) and has pitched well out of the pen except for a bad outing at UCLA when he allowed 4 R's in 1 IP (0 ER in his other 7 IP). Mathews had good control (19 BB in 84 IP) last year but has struggled a little with his command this year. He has a good fastball that is usually in the low 90's. The other primary relievers that ECU will use out of the bullpen for ECU are Jason Neitz (LHP, SR, 1-0, 1.59 ERA, 7 apps, 11 1/3 IP; '06 - 2-1, 3.06 ERA, 35 IP), Brett Butts (RHP, JR, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 apps, 5 2/3 IP; transfer) and Mike Flye (RHP, SR, 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 5 apps, 7 IP; '06 - 1-0, 6.00 ERA, 15 IP).