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Rutgers Baseball less than “Short Season” Review

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An odd season for the ballclub ended having played less than a third of their schedule.

Rutkowski was the team’s ace for the 2nd straight year.
Rutgers Athletics

It’s been over a month since the season ended unexpectedly for the Rutgers baseball when the global pandemic resulted in a cancellation of all NCAA athletic activity for the remainder of the semester. The team’s final game was a 5-2 victory over in-state Monmouth on March 10 at Bainton Field.

Though this is only a round table of one, the same questions answered for other sports are a good starting point to take stock of the 2020 campaign, the first under Head Coach Steve Owens and his coaching staff. The ballclub finished 6-9 overall, playing less than a third of their schedule before the national quarantine, so this is very abbreviated.

Team MVP

Position Player: Richie Schiekofer. After playing at Maryland as a true freshman in 2018, Richie had to sit out in 2019 due to traditional transfer rules despite returning closer to his Millburn, NJ home. The redshirt sophomore outfielder was far from rusty, leading the team with a .375 batting average and clubbing two homers (tied for 2nd on the team). His lefthanded bat was key as one of a few who hits from that side of the plate on the team, adding a team leading 15 runs scored, tied for the RBI lead with 11, and pacing the club with three stolen bases. He added a few key defensive plays for good measure.

Pitcher: Harry Rutkowski. Harry (1-2) was let down by his offense usually facing the other team’s ace as he has become accustomed to, but led the team in ERA (2.74) by a mile among qualifiers. In 23 innings of work, he had an amazing 1.09 WHIP, .225 batting average allowed, and was second on the team with 14 strikeouts. With the uncertainty around professional baseball games and the draft this year, it may end up boding well for Harry’s future since he has a successful track record and plenty of film for scouts to watch.

Best Newcomer

Position Player: Jordan Sweeney. Though Schiekofer did not play last year, he was on the team while sitting out as a transfer, so I’m going to give this to Sweeney. The 6’5”, 215 lb. true freshman from Egg Harbor Township only started one of his 12 games played, due to his effectiveness as a pinch hitter. He hit an awesome .438 and would have led the team in batting if he had enough plate appearances to qualify officially. Jordan was 7-16 total including a home run and 5 RBI. If he can continue to produce, the staff may need to find time for him in the lineup alongside fellow first baseman Chris Brito.

Pitcher: Jacob Newman and Matt Ciccone. In a limited body of work, I couldn’t pick between the only two players who threw their first career innings for the Scarlet Knights. Newman, a redshirt freshman from Illinois, pitched two innings without allowing an earned run. Ciccone, a freshman from East Hanover who played his high school ball at Newark Academy, was busier with 10 innings pitched across six appearances striking out eight men. Both pitchers will be counted on heavily in 2021 as the team needs hurlers to eat innings badly due to the lack of numbers on the roster.

Most improved players

Position Player: Chris Brito. Before his true freshman year, Brito was already viewed as the Scarlet Knights’ best slugger. He had baptism by fire, though did club three homers as the everyday first baseman in 2019. In 2020 though as a sophomore, Brito was a true threat every time he came to the plate and the opposition had to adjust accordingly. In just 15 games, he slugged a team leading three dingers and tied for the team lead with 11 RBI, adding eight runs scored. Pencil him in the cleanup spot again in 2021.

Pitcher: Kyle Muller. After appearing in five games in 2017 (7.20 ERA), Muller came back a better pitcher in 2019 (4.50 ERA) after a redshirt year. He got his feet wet in some high leverage situations, but was really counted on in 2020. He delivered with a 3.18 ERA (2nd on the team), striking out eight in 11.1 IP, and earning one save. If Muller can continue to improve, he may be the regular closer in 2021.

In-season: N/A. Wait until next year!

David S. Anderson Sr. Toughness Awards

These awards are named after my father (not me) who was a catcher at RU from ‘79-’82.

Comeback player: Danny DiGeorgio. After missing the entire 2019 season due to injury, Danny returned to the lineup as the everyday shortstop. His defense was key (only two errors) to solidify the team up the middle after the Knights never got it sorted out at his position in 2019. At the plate, DiGeorgio was hot and cold, slightly down from his .277 average in 2018. He had two monster games against North Florida plus key doubles against Wagner and Saint Peter’s. His name will be at shortstop every day in 2021.

Bulldog Pitcher: Eric Reardon. The son of the team’s equipment manager, John, who has served in the role since 2001 as well as being known as the voice of the RAC for 20+ years, it did take some time for Eric to make his own name on the banks. Eric, a 6’5” senior lefthander and captain, shaved one run off his best career ERA with a mark of 4.32 in 2020 out of the bullpen. He was put in some difficult situations earlier in his career, but did himself no favors by walking more batters than he struck out in each of his first three years. In 2020 though, he struck out 12 while only walking five, so if he can continue to improve his control the team may benefit from a lucky a 5th year of eligibility from him in 2021.

Best Win

Series: North Florida. Technically this was the only series Rutgers won this season, but they absolutely devastated the Ospreys. Rutgers evened their record at 3-3 by sweeping the home team and scoring 37 runs in the three game set. The pitching staff pitched solidly with the big leads in games one and two, then buckled down in a one run triumph in the finale.

Game: Washington State (03/01). After being thoroughly outplayed the first two games, the Scarlet Knights looked like a completely different team on Sunday. On getaway day in Peoria, Arizona, Tevin Murray and Parker Scott combined for all nine innings, allowing just one unearned run on the day. The offense gave them plenty of run support, jumping out to a 3-0 lead on two RBI from Schiekofer in the first two frames then providing three more insurance tallies in the 7th.

Toughest Loss

Series: at Old Dominion. Rutgers was swept and quite badly, too. The Monarchs entered the three game home set with a record of 9-2 and kept their foot on the gas the whole way. Friday, Harry Rutkowski gutted out six innings, but the home team got to Kyle Muller in the 7th which was enough to win 3-1 even though RU outhit them 7-6. Saturday, RU jumped out to a 5-0 lead in game 2 and led 7-5 in the middle of the 9th before falling apart to blow it. Sunday was just a laugher.

Game: Season opener at #3 Miami, 2-1 (02/14). The new era of Rutgers baseball almost began with the biggest upset in some years in typical local evening humidity. RU began the year in typical fashion at #3 Miami (FL) looking to win their first game of the Steve Owens era. Rutkowski (5 IP, 2 ER, 5 SO) dueled with Hurricanes ace Brian Van Belle (6 IP, 10 SO, 0 BB, 0 ER) and the game stayed tight. A solo shot from Chris Brito sliced the deficit in half in the 8th, but RU fell short of their biggest upset in years by a score of 2-1.

Overall feelings & thoughts on this season

Dan DiGeorgio was back at least, but otherwise did we really learn much about this team? Not much other than that they were more stable up the middle. Had the season played out as normal, 3B/C Sam Owens probably would have rounded into form at the plate and maybe we would have seen prized freshman INF/C Gus Sosa who did not see action. Starter Peter Serruto looked better than he did as a freshman so the team’s catching depth was as good as advertised. At the plate, Rutgers showed flashes, but only Schiekofer and Brito looked with the eye test a lot better than 2019.

If one player is to be negatively impacted the most by this it’s probably Tevin Murray. In the grand scheme, Murray is a tall guy who is still developing and needs to throw as many innings as possible. He’s a senior, so it will be curious to see what happens, if he goes to the MLB draft or elects to come back after the NCAA granted another year of eligibility to spring athletes that had their seasons cut short. It’s a huge wildcard because Rutgers only had 13 pitchers on the roster and five of them including Murray and Saturday starter Tommy Genuario are seniors. Owens identified the team’s need for more arms as one of his top priorities in the offseason and it was obvious he was handcuffed even in a limited number of games this year.

The coaching staff did not get enough action to really assess their contributions with such a small sample size.

Fair expectations for next season

.500 overall record. I’d add a .500 record in Big Ten play only after I stipulate a huge “if” here that the team returns at least one of its starting pitchers. The first logical question is around the future of Harry Rutkowski. Could he leave for the MLB Draft? If he does, not only will we have missed out on the rest of his junior year, by having foregone his senior year Rutgers the team will need to start from scratch in its weekend rotation unless Murray is returns. Tommy Genuario is a redshirt senior so he could depart or return based on the NCAA granting all spring athletes another year of eligibility. Whether seniors choose to return remains to be seen.

Potential Silver Lining

Owens and his staff have time to get more pitchers on this club. That will be absolutely crucial with the likely graduation losses. It gives them more time to assemble a staff while virtually all key bats will return in 2021 regardless. That said, it’s unfortunate to miss virtually an entire season, baseball is fun. It’s the national pastime for a reason.

Next up

Keep an eye out for periodic offseason updates here at onthebanks.com as we learn more about the future of College Athletics over the next few months. Thank you again to the seniors whether they are moving on or returning. When we know, we’ll let you know.

If you have thoughts on the season, let us know in the comments below.