Nine games into the 2015 season, Pitt's baseball team hasn't quite gotten off on the right foot.
The past two seasons, the program has gotten off to manageable starts. This year, though, has been different with the Panthers stumbling right out of the game.
Defense has been an issue with Pitt already recording 19 errors (their opponents have had only nine). Heading into this weekend, the Panthers' .953 fielding percentage ranked 197th in the nation. Offensively, things haven't been great, either. Pitt ranked 124th in batting average heading into this weekend and with their average dipping from .268 to .258 since then, that will set the Panthers back even further. Pitt has also been shut out twice already - something that didn't even happen last year until ACC play in a game against Georgia Tech at the end of March.
Through nine games, the team has a 3-6 record and things will obviously get more difficult once they reach ACC play. Among the miscues so far are a loss to East Tennessee State, a series loss to VCU, and those two aforementioned shutout defeats at the hands of both Ohio State and Kansas State. It's still early, but with the team losing so much production from last year, it doesn't look to be a season with much promise.
To their credit, Pitt's starting pitchers have turned in mostly solid performances. Sophomore T.J. Zeuch, the only pitcher back with significant starting experience, is the team's ace with a 1.86 ERA. His 19.1 innings pitched, 24 strikeouts, and three starts all lead the team. Marc Berube has a 1.64 ERA and while he's pitched only 11 innings in two starts, he pitched into the ninth in his last outing on Sunday, an extra-inning loss to VCU. Aaron Sandefur hasn't been a slouch, either, in two starts with a 2.57 ERA while striking out more than a batter an inning (16/14).
While it's true that pitchers are generally ahead of hitters early in baseball seasons, to get that kind of production out of three guys that were not full-time members of the rotation last year is impressive. They almost assuredly won't be able to keep their ERAs that low, but it's a good sign that much of what they've done this year so far has worked.
One good thing is that all three guys are sophomores/juniors and could conceivably return next year. Depending on what they accomplish this year, though, as we saw with Joe Harvey and Luke Curtis last season, the pros could come calling early. Zeuch is a Wild Card of sorts there as he was drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals in the 31st round and obviously has some pro potential.
This has the look of a difficult season for Pitt, but the Panthers' starting rotation could be a formidable one.