Column: Managing pitching will be key for softball and baseball in 2021

San+Diego+State+softball+junior+pitcher+Maggie+Balint+fires+a+pitch+during+the+Aztecs+3-0+loss+to+Brigham+Young+on+Feb.+13%2C+2020+at+the+SDSU+Softball+Stadium.

Courtesy of Derrick Tuskan, SDSU Athletics

San Diego State softball junior pitcher Maggie Balint fires a pitch during the Aztecs’ 3-0 loss to Brigham Young on Feb. 13, 2020 at the SDSU Softball Stadium.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

The San Diego State baseball and softball teams take the field this week to open their 2021 seasons. 

Both teams begin by taking on cross-town rival University of San Diego. 

Softball heads west on Interstate 8 on Wednesday, while the baseball team takes on the Toreros over the weekend at Tony Gwynn Stadium for two and plays Sunday at Cunningham Stadium. 

One thing that is different for both squads in 2021 is scheduling. 

Every Mountain West Conference series contains a doubleheader and some non-conference series also implemented doubleheaders to limit travel and COVID-19 exposure. It will be a two-day series with the doubleheader coming on the first day of the series. 

Softball will first experience playing a doubleheader on Wednesday, while the baseball team will not play its first doubleheader until March 6, when they start the MWC portion of its schedule against Fresno State. 

That means pitching will be crucial, especially going into the depths of a bullpen by using more pitchers due to the time it takes to rest arms. 

Both teams are highlighted by standout starting pitchers. From baseball redshirt sophomore Troy Melton to fifth-year senior Marissa Moreno and junior Maggie Balint for softball, those pitchers are expected to be trusted when they are on the mound. 

As softball head coach Kathy Van Wyk said in a Q&A interview last month, pitching will be relied on beyond Balint and Moreno this season with senior pitcher Hannah Johnson and second-year freshman Karina Faasisila. 

“It’s huge and right now this year, we’re going to have a lot more doubleheaders, so it’s going to be very important to us,” Van Wyk said. “Hannah is just consistent. The beauty of what she does is she’s always around the plate, she throws strikes, she brings a lot of confidence to the team and she ended up last year with as many innings and a better earned run average than all of our pitchers. 

“With having doubleheaders, we’re really going to need to have a third (starter) and we’re going to need a fourth. Karina is going to have to take more of a role.” 

The baseball team has played doubleheaders in the past, but not as frequently as the 2021 season will require. 

Baseball head coach Mark Martinez said playing twice in one day will be something the team will have to adjust to. 

“Our group has never dealt with playing doubleheaders and those kinds of things,” Martinez said. “Managing doubleheaders, that’s going to be interesting. You look at just a pitching staff and you travel with 12 pitchers and you’re playing 27 innings in less than 24 hours, you’re not going to see a ton of guys repeating a turn out there on the mound. We have to manage it the right way.”

That means pitchers – especially the bullpen – will have to be effective having just 12 pitchers cover three games in a 24-hour stretch.  

The bullpen is somewhat established with junior Tre Brown penciled in as the closer, but it could change as the team finds its rhythm to start the season.

“Back end of the bullpen will probably be Tre Brown as we enter the weekend,” Martinez said. “So, trying to maintain that and manage that is very critical, based on the fact that our kids have not had the same level of training. We can say Tre will be our closer, so to speak, but I don’t know if he’ll throw twice in the same weekend this early in the season.” 

“It could be a committee as we move through the first couple, three weekends before we really settle into a cadence throughout the year. You’re going to see a host of other guys finishing games as well,” Martinez said.

Some of those pitchers that could close games besides Brown are juniors Casey O’Sullivan, Avery Jones and Jacob Flores as well as sophomore Brain Leonhardt, as a two-way option, who also plays first base.

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