Virginia is beginning a second-straight baseball season with Daniel Lynch in its starting pitching rotation.
The Cavaliers are hopeful he stays there this time.
UVa coach Brian O’Connor announced Tuesday that Lynch will get the nod at noon Friday when the 16th-ranked Wahoos open 2017 against Liberty in Charleston, South Carolina.
The sophomore left-hander will be followed by redshirt freshman righty Evan Sperling on Saturday against The Citadel and junior lefty and two-way player Adam Haseley on Sunday against Kansas.
“Out of those three starters, I’ve seen really good consistency over the last three weeks,” O’Connor said. “They’ve made three starts [in scrimmages] and they’ve built up every week and have thrown more pitches each time. All three of them have pitched very well.
“Certainly now the games count, starting this weekend, so it’s a different added pressure. But I’m excited to see all three go out there and hopefully get us off to a good start.”
Lynch is back in the weekend spotlight, a place he struggled with last year. The Richmond-area native began 2016 as the No. 2 behind Connor Jones. On opening weekend, he struck out nine Appalachian State batters over five shutout innings as the Cavaliers rolled to an 8-0 win.
Lynch stayed in that role for the next three weeks, totaling a 1-1 record and 5.31 ERA. After an illness took away his next scheduled start against Wake Forest, he returned at Louisville and was tagged for five runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings.
He didn’t start again on a weekend until Sunday of the NCAA Charlottesville Regional, allowing three runs on five hits in 1 2/3 innings. Virginia’s season ended that afternoon with a 5-4 loss to William & Mary.
Final numbers on Lynch’s rookie year: 1-3, 5.49 ERA.
“For a while,” Lynch said, “I was really disappointed with how it went. Then it sort of turned into there’s really no better lesson than losing and getting your butt kicked a lot of times.
“So I tried to let it serve as a lesson. I mean, there’s no better lesson than doing it in front of sold-out crowds at Louisville and facing guys like that. I guess it makes me feel better just to think it was a really good lesson that I was able to learn, it was a really good opportunity.”
Lynch, healthy and with an added 25 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame, has inspired confidence that things will go differently this season.
“I think he’s definitely ready,” Haseley said. “I think his velocity is a little higher than it was last year for right now. And from an experience standpoint, I think he’s much more mature than he was last year. I think he’s completely ready.”
Added closer Tommy Doyle: “You couldn’t ask for more from Lynch. He’s developed so much since his freshman year.”
The 14-year O’Connor era has typically produced that kind of second-year progression on the mound, with Nathan Kirby and Jones being the most recent examples.
“[Lynch] is a bit stronger,” O’Connor said. “He’s throwing the ball a little bit harder. All of his pitches are a little bit sharper, and that comes from experience, it comes from strength, and his strength level’s better.
“So you combine those things and I think we have a better pitcher.”
Sperling is a 6-foot-6 215-pounder, who missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Saturday will mark his first game appearance since his senior year at Grafton High School in Yorktown.
Haseley, with a career record of 11-4 and 1.86 ERA, is the center fielder on days he’s not pitching.
Derek Casey, a redshirt sophomore righty coming off 2015 Tommy John surgery, is expected to go Tuesday in Virginia’s home opener against VMI.
“I’m excited about our pitching,” O’Connor said. “You look at the talent that we’ll run out in Lynch and Sperling and Haseley and some of those guys coming out of the bullpen, there’s clearly enough talent there.
“It’s just they need to be put to the fire a little bit, and we’ll get that this weekend.”