A loss can have value when teams learn from it. Since a 2-1 setback at Elon on Saturday, March 27, the East Carolina baseball team has won five straight, a streak that includes a comeback win over North Carolina and a four-game American Athletic Conference sweep of Cincinnati.
Pirates coach Cliff Godwin called his colleague, Tim Corbin of Vanderbilt, for some reassurance after the loss to the Phoenix in which ECU batters struck out 14 times.
“We’re in a much better place now,” Godwin said. “We’ve played better with our minds, which has made me happy.”
In topping the Tar Heels, 11-10, on March 30, ECU rallied from deficits of 4-0, 6-2 and 10-6.
“They just showed a lot of toughness and a lot of resiliency, … down four runs three times in a game is a little bit abnormal,” Godwin said. “They just kept fighting. It was a fun game to watch.”
Game day routine
The start of today’s home doubleheader with Memphis has been moved from 1 p.m. to noon.
“We always have a pregame meal four hours before,” Godwin said. “Get the guys a good meal in them. Then we’ll have a hitters and a pitchers meeting, take batting practice, have a team meeting, take infield and outfield and play.”
The Pirates see right-handers exclusively in batting practice.
“We don’t have a left-handed thrower on our coaching staff,” Godwin said. “We just have right-handers so we throw right-handers every day.”
Having a good batting practice doesn’t insure a good day at the plate and vice-versa.
“It happens all the time,” Godwin said. “I had it a lot — both sides of it. Batting practice gives you confidence but if the pitcher’s tough or maybe you can speed up during the game that can affect things. Your swing can be great in BP but the pitch selection that you have up there and chasing out of the zone — all of that stuff goes into play.”
Offense, quality at-bats
Godwin doesn’t place as much emphasis on batting averages as he does on a myriad of other factors that qualify as a quality at-bat.
“The first thing is team offense, whatever our approach is, one through nine, and not one guy in that one through nine do something different,” Godwin said. “Then your offense gets thrown off. That’s very important when you talk about team offense.
“Quality at-bats, when they hit the ball hard, hard, hard contact — ninety-nine percent of the time is a quality at-bat. A walk, an HBP (hit by pitch), a sacrifice bunt, hit and run, getting a guy in from third base with less than two (out), a 2-out RBI. … That’s kind of the quick overview of it. Five pitches after 0-2 (count), a 9-pitch or more at-bat. Getting the pitcher’s pitch count up, so those two things as well.”
Over the last five games, the offensive has shown winning productivity.
“I think we’ve done a good job as a unit, offensively, of sticking to our approach, whatever our approach is, selling out to it. I think our guys have done a good job of that.”
Godwin gave some examples as far as hitting approaches.
“If you’re facing somebody who throws really hard, like if you’re facing Gavin Williams, you want to chase down, not chase up out of the zone because you’re not going to hit anything that’s above your belt anyway with the velocity that you’re seeing.”
Williams has thrown over 100 miles per hour.
“If you’re facing a guy like Kuch (Jake Kuchmaner), then you want to chase up because he’s trying to get you to make soft contact down in the zone. There’s more to it but those could be two of the things that we talk about.”
The AAC is playing four-game series on the weekends this season after playing three-game series in the past. AAC teams are not playing midweek games since league play began last weekend.
The revised format has changed ECU’s practice regimen.
“This week is different than last week because we had a midweek game (last week),” Godwin said. “They had Sunday totally off. We just lifted weights on Monday. We got back to just doing some short practices, nothing long. The weather has been warmer than it has been all year. I think (Wednesday) was the hottest day we’ve had so far, so we just limited it to a 2-hour practice — get them out there and getting them back off their feet as quick as possible.
“It is what it is, we don’t get to make choices on how many games we’re playing. We play one game tomorrow at noon. If there’s game two, there’s game two. We don’t want to pace ourselves. We want to give everything we’ve got in each moment and then if you get tired, we’ll go to somebody else.”
Godwin felt like the teams would get the doubleheader in.
“It will be either 45 minutes after (the first game) or maybe it will be a couple of hours after,” Godwin said Thursday. “I think we’ll be able to get it in the way the forecast is right now. I don’t know what time it will be.”
The Pirates got some strength and conditioning in this week.
“Our strength coach (Dennis Wilson) does a really good job,” Godwin said. “Position players are different than pitchers. Position players lifted Monday. They lifted Tuesday and they’ll have a light lift (Thursday). … They’re not maxing out. Some guys can actually get stronger during the season the way they continue to develop. Some guys are trying to maintain and just not get hurt. They’ve got some things that are maybe nagging them that we’re trying to rehab kind of through even though they’re out there playing.
“Pitchers have to maintain their flexibility. This week allowed Coach (Jason) Dietrich (pitching coach) with our pitchers to be able to throw some bullpens because there were no midweek games and actually work with some of our guys instead of throwing them out there in live competition.”
Godwin considers multiple factors in making out the lineup.
“There’s a lot that goes into it — the pitcher we’re facing. the way guys are seeing the baseball,” Godwin said. “Obviously, how guys hit vs. left-handed pitching. vs. right-handed pitching. All that goes into account when you put together a lineup.”
Lane Hoover played in six games before going out with facial fractures from a collision with second baseman Connor Norby. The Pirates have improved to 22-5 in the meantime and are ranked No. 9 by Division I baseball. Hoover, who was hitting .429, is expected to be back this weekend.
“Lane’s going to play,” Godwin said. “I don’t know how much he’s going to play but Lane’s going to play. He’s been practicing all week. He’s gained most of his strength back. He’s not 100 percent. I think he’s probably 90 percent but he’s chomping at the bit to play.
“Of course, he’ll wear a face covering in the outfield and then he has a helmet with basically a football mask on the front of it that he’ll hit with.”
Pirate pitchers take a string of 14 scoreless innings into the Memphis series. Godwin and staff have managed the bullpen effectively.
“Coach Deets (Dietrich) and I and Coach (Austin) Knight talk all the time about different situations,” Godwin said. “The biggest things we talk about is … if it’s in the middle of an inning, who we’re going to bring in, if it’s to start a clean inning who we’re going to bring in and what the score of the game is so a lot of communication with all of the coaches with that.
“We call them all closers. When you bring them in you want them to close out this inning. Close out the next inning. Pass the ball to the next guy. Our whole bullpen is closers.”
Practice focus this week
The Pirates have focused on a lot of situations in practice.
“We just reviewed a ton of fundamentals this week,” Godwin said. “Of course, took some batting practice but going over our bunt defense, our pickoffs, pop fly communication, first and third defense, some baserunning stuff, just to continue to refresh them on things that maybe we hadn’t gone over in a while.”
Thoughts on Memphis
The Tigers come to Clark-LeClair Stadium at 11-15 overall and 1-3 in the AAC after winning the opener of last weekend’s series at Tulane.
“I would tell fans and everybody not to look at their record and think they can’t beat us,” Godwin said. “I mean we can lose to anybody because we’ve shown that this year so we need to worry more about how we play than who we’re playing.”