It’s no coincidence that as of May 10 Michigan State baseball hosts the fourth best ERA in the nation. A deep and talented bullpen is a large part in the reason MSU stands out in the field of 295 other teams as one of the most dominant pitching staffs in the NCAA.
Wednesday’s game against Eastern Michigan and the series against Nebraska, although MSU lost two of three, reiterates how consistent this group of guys has been. In those past four games, the Spartan relief corps has thrown 17 innings, allowing only three runs (only two of them being earned), 10 hits, five walks, and pitched 14 strikeouts. Making Michigan State lethal come late innings.
Manager Jake Boss Jr. said that crafting this bullpen to become as strong as it is has been a long time coming, and the coaching staffs patience has paid off.
“It’s been a process for sure. We redshirted a couple of guys, we recruited a couple of those guys [to be relievers], and a couple of those guys to their credit have gotten a lot better,” Boss said. “We knew the bullpen would be deep coming into the year, we figured that would be our strong suit, and it has been.”
The cast of bullpen arms begins with the 6-foot-7 tank from Jenison, Michigan, redshirt sophomore Dakota Mekkes. Mekkes has taken on both the role of the first arm out of the pen as well as more of a closer role, especially now that Joe Mockbee, the planned closer for 2016, has moved to the starting rotation. Mekkes has struck out a video game number like 60 percent of the batters he’s faced this season. This is complimented with his 1.65 ERA on the year and six saves to his name.
Walter Borkovich is the newest member of the bullpen. He was the one to switch with Mockbee and move from starter to reliever. You’d think this would frustrate most players, but Borkovich has owned the title since moving to the bullpen. In the Junior’s first 12 innings of relief he holds an ERA of 0.75 and a WHIP of 0.92. He makes for a strong long relief pitcher, but has also been able to come into late innings and close the door on opponents.
The redshirt sophomore from Howell, Michigan, Jake Lowery is often used in late inning appearances. The Spartans are 28-0 when leading after the seventh inning with the win over the Eagles. This is an incredible feat, and Lowery has been apart of it. He spoke on avoiding pressure in late inning situations when they have the lead.
“The biggest thing is to stay relaxed,” Lowery said. “We practice all the time perfecting our stuff. We work on our offspeed stuff a lot, to get them (the batters) to chase. We make sure our fast balls are good and that they can’t hit the ball.”
Lowery also spoke on how important depth in pitching is to MSU.
“It means a lot because if one guy comes in and can’t get the job done, you know there’s always a guy behind you that can,” Lowery said.
What bullpen is complete without an impressive freshman? Riley McCauley hasn’t pitched a ton this season, but he picked up his second win of the season after coming in a tight spot in Wednesday’s matchup against EMU. With bases loaded and only one out, McCauley was able to strike out the first batter he faced and then get the next guy to fly out to right field to end the inning. McCauley is yet another example of how deep the Spartan bullpen is. For a freshman to come up big in a tight spot like that, it shows his year is just a title and is already able to compete at the this level.
Keegan Baar and Andrew Gonzalez round out the bullpen. They’ve been given the tough job of being both mid week starters and having to be ready for relief on the weekends. The pair of sophomores have combined for 10 starts and 79 innings total of work. They have almost identical ERA’s with Gonzalez hosting a 2.23 and Baar with a 2.34. They have proved all season that whenever coach Boss gives them the nod to start or come into the game, they can be a reliant arm.
If the starters can go six or seven innings strong and the bats are working, you know you can count on this bullpen to shut the door on opposing teams to hold onto the win. Or if the team is down and things aren’t going the starter’s way, they know they can lean on their relief corps to keep the game in arms reach and stop any bleeding.
The bullpen has been a huge reason MSU is having one of their best seasons in school history, but they don’t always get the most love.