Senior right-hander Josh Smith is still the starter in game on Friday at 6 when Kennesaw State’s Owls visit Ken Dugan Field at Stephen L. Marsh Stadium for the start of a three-game Atlantic Sun series. But sophomore right-hander Davey Hackett is penciled in as the starter in game two, moving up from his role as the No. 3 starter for the second week in a row. Freshman left-hander Chris Nunn will get the call in game three for the second week. Both changes were tested last weekend in a non-conference series with Illinois State.
The Bisons are 10-20; 2-4 in the Atlantic Sun. Kennesaw State is 13-18, 4-5 in the conference.
“Obviously, there is pressure on Josh knowing he has been the only consistent person on our staff,” said Bisons pitching coach Tyler Shrout. “Josh loves that. He actually thrives on it. He wants to be that guy. He loves the pressure.
“For the coaching staff it is more pressure on us knowing that without him doing what he needs to do every Friday we are going to be behind the eight ball. Our guys play different when he out there. When is on the mound, the atmosphere is more laid back. We are expecting to win. Our players have 100 percent confidence in him.”
Smith is 5-1 with a 3.33 earned run average. He has recorded 15 strikeouts in each of his last two starts; a 9-4 win over ETSU March 26 and a 5-3 win over Illinois State April 2.
“Josh had better stuff the first time against ETSU,” Shrout said. “This past time against Illinois State he located his pitches better than he ever has.
“The biggest thing is to get him a lead early which we did in both of those games. If we go out and give him a four-or-five-run lead he can be relaxed and just pitch. That’s where he gets those strikeout numbers. He knows if he gives up a hit or a run that it is not going to be the ball game. He doesn’t have pressure on each pitch.”
Hackett, 2-3, 6.64 ERA, has shown improvement as the season has progressed. He is coming off of an 8-1 win over Illinois State April 3.
“He has proven to be the most consistent of everyone except Josh Smith,” Shrout said. “He still has stuff he needs to get better at, but he gives us the best opportunity to continue our momentum through the weekend series.”
Shrout was confident at the beginning of the season that Hackett could be competitive against any pitcher he faced in the No. 3 slot in the weekend rotation. Shrout also thinks that Hackett can make this move if his consistency continues to improve.
“He is doing a better job of stopping the momentum when things start going in the wrong direction,” Shrout said. “He is a guy who is making big pitches when he needs to do it. He has made some pitches when it counts.
“Last week he had three pick-offs so he has three of his 21 outs on pick-offs which was one of the reasons why he was successful. He is giving us more of a quality start each time out. That is all we are asking from our starters.”
Nunn will be making his fifth start of the season. He is 0-1 with a 15.51 ERA. Matt Bowling, Dannie Strable and Alex Ross have all had the opportunity this season to nail down a spot in the weekend rotation.
“It has been tough,” Shrout said. “We are looking for that consistency there.
“Chris might have some bad numbers, but he is going to learn every time he is out there. He has the stuff. He just has to continue to get better. He is a typical freshman. He needs the reps. He is not afraid to have the baseball.”
One of the keys for Nunn is the need to pace himself when he is on the mound.
“He has to understand the starting role,” Shrout said. “He needs to understand how important each pitch is and the concentration that is needed on each one.
“He is going to be our No. 3 starter for right now. If he gives us three or four, or maybe five or six innings, we will hopefully have enough guys behind him to finish it up.”
Saturday’s doubleheader will start at 1 p.m.
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.