Pitching You Wanted, Pitching You Got!

After struggling mightily with their pitching and defense to start the young season in their first four outings of the 2006 campaign, the previously winless Cincinnati Bearcats baseball team utilized two solid outings from UC newcomers to close their weekend series against North Carolina A&T and pick up their first victories of the season, 3-0 and 19-4.

Cincinnati (2-4), who picked up their first two wins of their young season in the unscheduled doubleheader, receiving the thing they have been lacking all season long: pitching! The Bearcats saw solid pitching contributions turned in by transfers Kyle Rapp and Glen Simon.

Rapp, a transfer from tiny Wabash College, and Simon, a Florida State import that made his way to Cincinnati due to a lack of playing time after suffering an injury, make up two portions of an entirely new starting rotation for the Bearcats. Rapp and Simon, both juniors, join freshman Blevins (who Coach Cleary has called the most talented freshman he has ever had at UC) in the rotation.

Cincinnati's backend starter of the double-dip was a huge surprise in every sense of the word. While Rapp and young No. 1 Steve Blevins were easy predictions for the first two games of the series, the decision to start the off-and-rarely-on Simon showed a great trust by Cleary in his starter's ability (or a lack of trust in his other options). In spite of an inability to get out of the first inning because of control issues in his first UC appearance in his Florida homecoming against his former rival, the Gators, Simon was dubbed to fill the infamous "N/A" spot that was present in the game notes. Performing in the enigmatic fashion Bearcat Insider predicted him to do prior to the season, Simon threw a nearly perfect game against NC A&T.

Despite frigid weather, Simon was hot on the mound, pitching a three-hit shutout and recording 13 strikeouts even with the difficulty of staying loose and getting a good grip on the seems of the ball. Simon retired the first 12 batters he faced. Having seen the Bearcats practice on Wednesday prior to making their trek to Greensboro, Simon's showing did not surprise all that much. While many of the UC pitchers struggled with command of their breaking ball (and all their pitchers) in the frigid win/air that took over Cincinnati the past few days, most notably Brian Wood and Matt Heber, Simon showed great command of his pitches and incredible velocity.

Perhaps foretelling the later success that Simon would have, the Bearcats got their day started right with the first of their two complete games thrown by Rapp, the first since recently graduated Tony Maynard tossed a shutout against Charlotte on April 15 of last year. In game one, Rapp, who will also see time in right field for the minimally-optioned Bearcats, allowed just two earned Aggie runs to cross home plate thanks in large part to holding them to only seven hits during the seven-inning affair.

While a 15-run difference in the scoring make look like it was easy for Rapp to stay in command, not having the pressure of a one-run game breathing down his neck, those who look at the box score closely will see otherwise. Up only one going into the sixth inning, UC pounded out 10 runs, so for five innings Rapp had to fight to keep the lead.

Rapp had to earn his victory on his own, at least from a defensive perspective, as the Bearcats were once again hurt by a shaky defensive display. Despite not being your prototypical "power pitcher", throwing in the mid- to high-80s at best, Rapp notched an early career-high of seven strikeouts.

Despite the presence of upperclassmen throughout their defensive lineup (except for freshmen Adam Yeager at shortstop (who may have been hurt – look for an update with BCI) and Josh Harrison, and JUCO Nick Maragas behind the plate), the Bearcats had four miscues on defense behind their young pitcher for the second straight game. The difference in the contest was the ability of Rapp to stay composed and get out of the situation on his own, largely thanks to the strikeout, the thing that has hindered Blevins in both of his first two college starts.

To this point, the strikeout has been one of the Bearcats best friends, as shaky defense and a seemingly inept ability to throw out base runners has hurt the team to this juncture in the season. Both Rapp and Simon, when accurate, have shown the ability to take over a game and do much of the dirty work on their own.

Blevins, who was perhaps unfairly thrust into the immediate spotlight upon his arrival to the Clifton campus, has not shown the same knack for doing so at this point in his early career. Not only has Blevins struggled at times with getting out of jams that either his defense or his own mistakes places him in, but he does not have the ability to hold runners. The youngster has already seen seven fleet-footed athletes successfully take off running while he was on the mound in his meager 8.2 innings on the mound, which suggest the lack of field-presence that can hurt a pitcher.

While the combo of Rapp and Simon are still a long ways away from wrapping up spots in Major League rosters, they at least have shown the ability to commandeer a game that may be in the midst of getting away from them. This is a fact that can be largely related to their two years of college experience prior to their appearance for UC. While Rapp has never played on this level prior to UC and Simon has struggled with injury and a lack of playing time over the past couple of years, the duo has apparently acquired a relative shrewdness on the mound that cannot be overlooked by a team that is in desperate need of leadership to toe the rubber.

The strong showings by Sunday's performers not only gave the Bearcats their first taste of winning this season, but will give them confidence in at least two of their starters being able to carry the load and dominant teams when need be.

Cincinnati will return to the diamond on their trek across the land of the Tar Heels as the team takes on High Point for their third straight three-game weekend series.

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