The Virginia baseball team’s inexperience at the starting pitcher position caused issues last season. This year, the Cavaliers feel confident in their group heading into the opening series of the season against Oklahoma.
Brian O’Connor plans on rolling out Griff McGarry on Friday, Chesdin Harrington on Saturday and Mike Vasil on Sunday. Andrew Abbott will serve as the team’s closer.
“I’m excited about those guys,” O’Connor said. “Certainly all three of them have some really good experience in our uniform. McGarry and Vasil kind of got a little bit seasoned last year and had some good opportunities, and certainly Chesdin’s been around here for a while and pitched our best baseball down the stretch last year.”
Harrington tossed 59 1/3 innings last season, posting a 3.49 ERA and striking out 64 batters. He issued just 16 walks.
McGarry possesses an elite arsenal of pitches, but he struggled with walks in his first two seasons. Through 71 innings in a UVa uniform, McGarry has walked 70 batters.
As a staff, avoiding walks earns the top spot on the list of goals this season. Virginia struggled to find the zone consistently last season, and it made it nearly impossible to find consistent starting pitching.
“I’ve seen really great signs in the preseason that we’re attacking the hitters, we’re throwing the ball over the plate, we’re controlling the running game, doing things where other teams have to earn their opportunities,” O’Connor said. “That’s what I want to get back to. That’s been a trademark in our program from a pitching standpoint.”
The pitching staff receives a stiff test right out of the gate, going up against a top-25 Oklahoma squad. The Sooners return a handful of key pieces in their lineup, including Tyler Hardman, who led the team in batting average, home runs and RBI a season ago. Tanner Tredaway, who led the team with seven steals, also returns. The Oklahoma lineup returns quality hitters.
Oklahoma also brings back elite pitching, including one of the best pitching prospects in the country in Cade Cavalli. The powerful right-hander can hit 100 mph with his fastball, and some outlets consider him to be a potential first-round pick in the MLB Draft.
Cavalli is joined by left-hander Levi Prater. The junior posted a 3.26 ERA in 80 innings last season, and he struck out 97 batters.
At closer, the Sooners can turn to Jason Ruffcorn, who led the Big 12 with 11 saves a season ago. The talent on the mound makes Oklahoma one of the best teams in the Big 12.
“They return their starting pitching, their closer and their entire lineup,” O’Connor said. “They have a tremendous amount of experience coming into the weekend, and it’s gonna be a great opportunity for both clubs.”
The series begins Friday in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday at Blue Wahoos Stadium, the ballpark of a Double-A baseball team. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos play in the venue, and while it’s the smallest stadium in the Southern League, the intimate view and scenic views are said to be among the best at that level.
O’Connor says the program likes this setup playing an opening series against a major opponent at a non-collegiate venue, and Virginia hopes to have a similar scenario to open the 2021 season. The Cavaliers are eyeing Houston as a potential destination.
UVa opens the 2020 season in a professional stadium against a top-25 team. It’s baseball season once again in Charlottesville, and the Cavaliers hope consistent pitching makes this season one to remember.
That journey starts Friday against Oklahoma.