Junior Walter Borkovich had been enjoying the role of the Sunday starter this year after pitching out of the bullpen all of last year. But after recent struggles, head coach Jake Boss Jr. has decided to make a change.
Borkovich has officially been moved to the bullpen and junior Joe Mockbee is the probable starter for this Sunday’s series finale against Indiana. This will be Mockbee’s first start of the season.
“It’s kind of week-to-week at this point,” Borkovich said, when asked how long he expects to stay in the bullpen. “Right now it seems I’ll probably be in there for a while. We’re trying to win a Big Ten championship ring so I’ll do whatever I have to do.”
Borkovich has started in eight games this season. His last start was Sunday, April 19 against Purdue, when he gave up three runs and took his second loss of the season. He was understanbly not happy with the change.
“I know it’s tough for him because everybody likes to start,” said Boss Jr. , who made the switch on Wednesday. “I give him a lot of credit because that’s not an easy thing to do, when you change your role like that, and it’s something that he wasn’t a big fan of.”
Borkovich was hot to start the season, allowing just two runs in 19.1 innings in his first three starts and earning the win in all three. He boasted a 0.93 ERA and looked to be as important to the rotation as junior ace Cam Vieaux.
His production started to decline as Michigan State neared the end of their southern baseball tour and prepared to return north for home games. Since the Spartans have been back home, Borkovich has not flashed the dominance he displayed early in the year.
His last 6 appearances:
Mar 13 vs. North Dakota State: ND (3-0), 5.0 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO, 2.22 ERA
Mar 20 vs. USF: L (3-1), 1.0 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO, 3.91 ERA
Mar 27 vs. Rutgers: W (4-1), 7.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO, 4.36 ERA
Apr 5 vs. Eastern Michigan: ND (4-1), 2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO, 4.37 ERA
*Did not start game; entered in second inning after Ethan Landon left game
Apr 10 at. Penn State: ND (4-1), 4.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO, 4.54 ERA
Apr 17 at. Purdue: L (4-2), 5.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO, 4.60 ERA
There are significant problems with his recent performances. His ERA failed to go down as this stretch of games progressed; rather, it increased by more than three and a half points. He also allowed more runs than innings pitched, and he allowed at least six hits in each of his starts.
Although he earned the win in the Rutgers game, it was by no means a stellar outing. A sudden comeback developed in the bottom of the seventh when the offense exploded for six runs to give the Spartans a 6-5 lead. Borkovich was taken out the inning after, but was technically the current pitcher when the lead was taken so he earned the win.
A change needed to be made, and Borkovich was moved to the bullpen. He was made available immediately, and entered the game Friday in relief for Vieaux. He pitched the final two innings of the game, allowing just two hits while striking out three.
“I think we’re a better ball club with him coming out of the ‘pen,” said Boss Jr. “That’s not a knock on him because he was the first guy out of the pen before. When he comes out in shorter stints, he’s able to let it fly and I think he did that today and he was really good.”
Borkovich has contributed to the team in other ways before, and he can continue to do so in positions other than starting pitcher.
“I’m looking to take whatever role there is down the road,” said Borkovich. “Whether it’s a conference tournament spot start, or a starter here and there at the end of the season. A closer, a long relief guy, or whatever it is will be fine with me as long as we’re winning games.”
Mockbee has been the primary closer this season, picking up five saves on the year with a 3.00 ERA in 27 appearances. He started two games in his freshman year, but did not start a single game last year and is expected to make his first start this year. The longest outing of his career was 4.2 innings, while his longest outing of this season was four innings at Comerica Park against Central Michigan.
“I’m confident that he can get deep into the game but still stay sharp,” said Boss Jr. “He went deep into the game against Central Michigan throwing 75 or so pitches. He looked really good and could have kept going, and the only reason we took him out was because we needed him for the weekend.
“It depends on how well our Sunday guy throws,” Boss Jr. said when asked if the change is permanent. “Mockbee is going to move from a closing role to a Sunday starter and if he continues to throw well and Walter continues to throw well out of the pen then there’s no reason to make any further changes.”