Perno Hopes SEC Season Offers Fresh Start

ATHENS – The thing about clichés in baseball is that they tend to have become clichés because there's so much truth in them.

That's the idea behind much of David Perno's lessons to his team this week, as Georgia prepares to open SEC play against Auburn (11-5) after a disastrous early season run.

The Bulldogs (8-9) have struggled on defense, battled injuries, played an arduous scheduled and suffered through some of the worst pitching performances Perno has seen in years, but he's falling back on those old baseball truisms to turn things around.

"Anyone who's struggling, you've got to break it down to the simplest form, and I think we're starting to do that," Perno said.

That means that everything starts with strike one. The pitching staff has been battered throughout the early season, with 11 hurlers checking in with ERAs over 6.00 so far. Much of that has come from a rampant case of wildness – including 79 walks, 21 wild pitches and 16 hit batsmen in 147 innings of work.

"We're trying to simplify things and work halves and really just throw strikes," said Michael Palazzone, who will start tonight's game sporting a 7.85 ERA. "We can't win can't win when we're walking people, and it's tough to play defense when we're throwing balls and you're out there for a while."

Defense has been its own problem. Injuries have ravaged Georgia's infield, and Perno has yet to fill out a lineup card with all nine of his projected starters.

Shortstop Levi Hyams and infielders Kyle Farmer and Chase Davidson have all missed time this year with varying injuries. Davidson could return this weekend, Perno said, and Hyams is already back in the lineup, although he's limited with the bat and Perno is hoping the improved defense will offset the lack of punch at the plate.

"When you look at the amount of hits we've given up, 85 to 90 percent of them have been singles, and balls just finding holes that won't be available as the season progresses," Perno said.

And that's the other old truism Perno is leaning on. With the start of SEC season, he's looking at this weekend as a clean slate – and everyone gets a fresh start.

It's been a long season thus far, with just eight home games and some tough opponents. The stars haven't aligned and players haven't lived up to expectations, but Perno has preached to his players to stay the course, and so far, right fielder Peter Verdin said, they're buying in.

"We haven't had one game with our projected starting lineup in," Verdin said. "We've been playing top-25 teams on the road. Yeah, we've been struggling, too, but we went up against Georgia Tech and we played well (last Tuesday). I think that shows well for the team and I think it's going to be a good weekend."

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