Bulls look to establish pitching identity
Junior Mike Burke (above) posted a 4.28 ERA last season. Burke will look to help the Bulls' pitching staff hit new highs this season. Nick Fischetti /// The Spectrum
It's common baseball lore that the pitcher controls the pace of the game. The Bulls' pitching staff is looking to set the squad's tempo in its quest to exercise past demons this season.
Last season, opposing teams had a .299 average and the Bulls allowed 577 hits. But with newfound experience and expanded roles, the pitchers believe they're ready to hit new highs.
The growing pains...
With graduation taking the two top pitchers from the staff - Cam Copping and Jeff Thompson, who pitched a combined 174 innings in 14 starts apiece - Buffalo will have to rely on younger players.
Sophomore Anthony Magoveney, junior Mike Burke and sophomore Mike McGee will anchor the staff for the beginning of the season as redshirt senior Kevin Hughes - who struck 24 batters in 21 innings last year - recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Last season, Magoveney pitched 43 innings in 18 appearances while posting an ERA of 5.65. He's looking to expand his role in the rotation.
"Last year was huge for [McGoveney] to pitch in big games for us. He threw a lot of conference games," said pitching coach Steve Ziroli. "We used a six-, seven-man rotation last year in conference, and he was one of those guys [who] really stepped up and earned the role."
Burke, who doubles as the team's starting shortstop, posted a 4.28 ERA last season with five wins and six losses. He also had the third-most innings pitched on the team with 69.1.
Rest will be key for Burke's success, as he will get a fair share of innings on the mound in addition to the majority of the starts at shortstop.
"We're in communication with [head coach Ron Torgalski]," Ziroli said. "We get his stuff done early, whether it be bullpen [sessions] or ... whatever he's got to do that day, we make sure nothing is going to be neglected from his [infield] game."
Redshirt senior River McWilliams will also provide the Bulls with experience on the hill. He appeared in 18 games and accumulated a 3.61 ERA while pitching 42 innings and striking out 40 batters.
McWilliams will provide the most experience on the staff, but like Burke, he also plays infield on days when he is not pitching.
"We are going to be depending on some young guys, younger guys that really haven't had the innings and looking forward to an increased role this year," Zorilo said. "We have a couple guys that have electric stuff. Mike Burke and River McWilliams are going to be huge cornerstones."
McGee - who will start on Friday as the Bulls travel to take on North Carolina A&T - experienced growing pains last season with a 10.57 ERA when he was asked to step in for the injured Copping.
He finished the season with 25 strikeouts over 23 innings.
"We have always been known as a hitting team and this year, we want to be known as a hitting team, but also a pitching team," McGee said. "Hopefully, we can get deep into the tournament."
The transition will be a bit of a challenge for Buffalo as the team is without catcher Tom Murphy, who was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the third round (105th overall) of last spring's MLB Draft.
The Bulls brought in junior catcher Kyle Figgins, who played last season for Kalamazoo Community College in Michigan.
"It's been difficult. It's hard to replace Tom Murphy," Magoveney said. "It's more difficult because now I have to have catchers figure out what I like to throw, but I feel comfortable with the catching situation now."
The Bulls will open up their season on Friday as they travel to a warmer climate for a three-game weekend series against North Carolina A&T.
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