Garrett Stepien / Scarlet Report

Rutgers Baseball Searches for Answers, Consistency in Final Non-Conference Stretch

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- On a five-game skid, what does Rutgers have to do to get back on track? With the Big Ten opener less than 10 days away, coach Joe Litterio and his players provide their assessment.

When Rutgers came away with the win in the rubber match of its three-game opening series at then-No. 17 Miami, Joe Litterio’s team had a reason to be optimistic.

But after the Scarlet Knights snapped their 16-game losing streak against the Hurricanes, a tough non-conference schedule put Rutgers in a hole.

Between the series losses and the 7-2 defeat to Rider in the midweek matchup Tuesday at Bainton Field, Rutgers (6-14) has more questions than answers in the midst of a five-game skid.

“We don’t have any passion,” Litterio said. “I’m looking for some passion from these guys, some grit, grind at bats out, get on the mound and do whatever it takes to get the job done. We’ve got three, five games non-conference before we start with Maryland and those guys need to wake up, start leading and start doing the right things before we have to make some big changes.”

Rutgers surrendered 16 hits to the Broncs (7-10) and left 11 runners on base, seven of which were in scoring position.

“You’re hoping to come back here and play Tuesday home and then go on the road again and start to get a little bit of momentum going,” Litterio said. “We’ve played a very tough schedule early on, and now we’re getting into the schedule and now we need to start winning. Today it just didn’t happen that way.”

Since the departure of ace lefthander Howie Brey last spring, Litterio lacks pitching options. The team ERA ballooned to 7.54. Friday starter and junior righthander Jon O’Reilly, who returned the most experience on the staff, is 1-4 with a 6.59 ERA in five appearances.

Inexperience is a factor in the bullpen, which largely consists of underclassmen. But as the lack of timely hitting proved Tuesday, Rutgers needs more production across all areas of the team.

“If you take all these games we’ve played after five innings, we’ve played some pretty tight games and all of a sudden, it turns into a blowout,” Litterio said. “That’s the ‘pen. That’s the young guys coming in and getting their feet wet. But we’re not hitting on that either. We were 7-2, we scored two runs today — we’ve got to start hitting better.

“It’s the whole club. The pitching at first was the problem that, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to figure some things out,’ and that’s kind of what we talked about. But now we’ve got to start hitting the ball, too.”

Senior captain Mike Carter, a four-year starter with a .385 batting average on 30 hits for the season, has enough experience to know Rutgers needs to turn it around before the end of the non-conference schedule.

“We’ve just got to get ready to play,” Carter said. “We’ve got to take these games and start building with each other, build on the good things and start rolling with them. We need to get into a groove and get ready to play. The Big Ten’s a new season, so there’s a lot of opportunity there. We’ve just got to get ready to go.”

Sophomore centerfielder Jawuan Harris echoed those sentiments.

“It’s very important,” said sophomore centerfielder Jawuan Harris. “We need to get on a roll and figure out our bats and our pitching, figure out what works and then we need to start, come out and play.”

With the opener of the three-game Maryland series for March 31, the Big Ten schedule is just around the corner. Rutgers has a three-game road stretch at USC Upstate that starts Friday before a March 28-29 home-and-home set with Monmouth.

The Scarlet Knights have until then to piece things together.

“We’ve got to figure a lot of things out — I think that’s the bottom line,” Litterio said. “We just talked about seniors stepping up, starting to be leaders. This isn’t a team that has only three seniors. We have nine or 10 seniors. It’s got to start from the top there.

“I can only say so much to these guys and preach to these guys and get on these guys, but the senior class needs to step up — and that’s something they need to do quickly because we’re running out of time before conference starts up.”

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