Brackets have been announced for the College World Series. LSU will be playing in the Saturday/Monday/Wednesday set, with bracket championships on Friday for both brackets. The best-of-three championship starts on the following Monday and runs for 3 consecutive nights. The spread out format makes for some very interesting pitching decisions, which we'll get to another day. Today, we focus on our first opponent, the University of Virginia Cavaliers.
The key to this game will be our matchup against this man, left-handed freshman ace Danny Hultzen. Our struggles against left-handed pitching have been well-documented. We kill righties, but we're barely above .500 against left-handers all year. The last time we faced a left-handed starting pitcher, Southern held us down and made a game against us through 7 innings. The time before that, Vandy's Mike Minor frustrated us and pitched a complete game, allowing only one run.
The scouting report on Hultzen is this:
This time last year, Hultzen was a pitchability left hander with a mid 80's fastball. While that made him a desirable college prospect, it wasn't enough to gather much professional interest. That has changed this spring, mostly thanks to an 8 to 10 mph jump in his fastball, which now gets into the low 90's. He spins a tight breaking pitch, and also mixes in a changeup and a split finger pitch as well.
That's from before the 2008 major league draft, in which he was drafted in the 10th round, and probably only that low because he made it clear he wanted to go to college.
Opponents are hitting .242 against Hultzen, and his ERA is 2.09 in 86 innings with 95 strikeouts and 27 walks. In his last game, he went 5 1/3 against Ole Miss and held them to 2 runs in a loss. If you're looking for a soft spot against Hultzman, that factoid points to one of them. He doesn't often go deep into games. He's averaging 6 innings per appearance, but then again in his previous start in the regionals against UC Irvine, he went 7 1/3 innings, pitching a 3-hit shutout. The other soft spot is the fact that he's a freshman who has never been on a stage quite like this.
Normally, I would say that the key to facing a pitcher like Hultzen is to make him throw pitches, get his count up and get into the bullpen. Virginia's bullpen is very good though. Tyler Wilson is a right-handed pitcher who has made 28 appearances and pitched 62 innings, almost all in relief, with a .238 batting average against. Kevin Arico is their closer, and hitters are faring .183 against him.
Virginia is quite a challenge for us, especially with a really good lefty on the mound. I think this is the time to tell Jared Mitchell to wait for a while and put in Derek Helenihi instead. It's a hard decision, because Mitchell is one of our best overall players. He's our best defensive outfielder, our only real threat to steal a base, and he's 4th on the team in slugging percentage. Lefties are really tough on him, though, and this is no ordinary lefty. Helenihi is not a slouch hitter. He has a .506 slugging percentage himself. I think we should start Helenihi in right, and then when we get into the bullpen, we should bring in Mitchell and move Helenihi to 3rd base for Hanover. I would also consider splitting up Schimpf and Dean in the lineup, rather than hitting them 2nd and 3rd like we usually do. I say we should leave Schimpf in the 2-hole, but move Dean down to #5.
Offensively, Virginia is good, but they lack a superlative offensive player. They're much like us in that respect, I suppose. Their best hitters are Dan Grovat and Jarrett Parker. They hit cleanup and leadoff, respectively, and they're hitting .365 and .364, respectively. Strangely enough, their leadoff hitter is by far their leader in slugging percentage at .685, while Grovat (the cleanup man) is slugging at a .524 clip. As a team, they don't hit a lot of home runs. Parker is their leader with 16, and no one else has more than 9.
They win games with pitching, and we have our work cut out for us against a guy like Hultzen. I hate to say it, but the key here may be to manufacture runs and hope that Anthony Ranaudo or Louis Coleman (whoever starts) can shut down the Virginia lineup.