Baseball: Utah evaluates its pitching rotation

Senior Brock Duke pitches in a game last season at Spring Mobile Ballpark. Duke and the Utes will face the St. Mary’s Gaels in a four-game series this weekend. Utah is 3-0 this season when Duke takes the mound. Chad Zavala / The Daily Utah Chronicle File Photo
Senior Brock Duke pitches in a game last season at Spring Mobile Ballpark. Duke and the Utes will face the St. Mary’s Gaels in a four-game series this weekend. Utah is 3-0 this season when Duke takes the mound.
Chad Zavala / The Daily Utah Chronicle File Photo

The Utes will head to California for the third time in four weeks to face the St. Mary’s Gaels in a four-game series this weekend. This is the last of a long string of road series Utah has played before finally kicking things off at Spring Mobile Ballpark on March 15.
In his senior year at the U, Brock Duke has became accustomed to starting the season away. He said he enjoys life on the road.
“Traveling is pretty fun for me — I enjoy it,” Duke said. “It’s always fun to go to a place with a little bit warmer weather. It’s good to get outside and to get in the sun and have to wear your sunglasses.”
Duke will start the first game of the series. Utah is 3-0 this season when Duke takes the mound, largely in part to his 2.95 ERA.
“We’re playing overall pretty well,” Duke said. “Just trying to throw to contact, keep my pitch count down and let my defense do work behind me.”
The U will continue on the same pitching rotation it has dialed up for previous series through the weekend. Tanner Banks will start Saturday followed by Joe Pond on Sunday. With this being a four-game series, Monday’s starter will depend on who comes out of the bullpen in the first three games. Head coach Bill Kinneberg is looking at several options.
“We’ll see after the first three games where we stand,” Kinneberg said. “Really after the first two where we are at with Dalton [Carroll] and [Chase] Rezac and even Trey Nielsen, who maybe could be back pitching for us. Those three guys are kind of the three candidates — it just depends on if we need them Friday or Saturday.”
So far this season, Utah’s offense has been red hot at times and ice cold at others, which has forced the Utes to look to the mound for consistency.
“You can win or lose any day, depending on how your guy on the hill does,” Kinneberg said. “Every game is important. We’re looking forward to getting out there for another four games.”
One player helping the pitching staff is Mitch Watrous. The sophomore has been transitioning into more of a late-inning reliever rather than starting this season, with great success. He will still be considered as a starter on Monday, but he feels like coming out of the bullpen is a better fit for him.
“Coming out of the bullpen has been a big change,” Watrous said. “But for me, I feel it’s been easier to not throw as many pitches and not pace myself. I’m just going in there and throwing everything with a little more intent.”
The strategy for a starting pitcher is much different than that of a late-inning reliever, and switching gears can be a challenge. Freshman Dalton Carroll has already been asked to come on in both situations, and Watrous empathizes with him.
“As a freshman, that’s a tough job to do,” Watrous said. “You’re coming into a D-1 school and asked to start right off the bat. I think he’s dealing with it really well. I thought the hardest thing to do is [go from] relieving to starting — it’s a totally different mind-set.”
St. Mary’s is 4-8 on the year, fresh off losing a clean sweep at UC Santa Barbara last weekend. Utah will be looking to return home on the plus side of .500 as they take a 5-5 record into Louis Guisto Field.