Almost halfway through the season, the Blue Devils have yet to reach their full potential. Although the offense has shown improvement of late, Duke's pitching, plagued by bullpen struggles, has limited the team's success.
But after much better outings in the team’s two midweek games, the Blue Devils hope their pitching staff will carry its productivity into ACC play and combine with Duke’s recent success at the plate to propel the team forward.
The Blue Devils will look to put all the pieces together when they host Pittsburgh this weekend at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The teams will clash Friday at 6 p.m. and then at 1 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, as Duke searches for its first ACC series win since it took two of three games from Virginia Tech in early March.
“We don’t go into a weekend thinking about it as a series,” Blue Devil head coach Chris Pollard said. “We go into a weekend thinking we play on Friday night. We’re going to compete like crazy Friday night, and we’ll worry about Saturday and Sunday when they get here.”
In order for Duke (15-13, 4-5 in the ACC) to emerge victorious, it will need to rely on its red-hot offense for continued production. The Blue Devils have been locked in at the plate during their last six contests, averaging more than 9.8 runs per game in that span.
One player in particular who has stepped up of late is Michael Smiciklas. The junior outfielder has slugged his way into the five-spot for the Blue Devils and is on a tear, with a .340 batting average on the season. Sophomore Griffin Conine has also been a major contributor at the plate—the Weston, Fla., native is hitting .311, and leads the team with nine doubles and 27 RBIs through 28 games.
For Pollard and his staff, the hardest task is keeping the team’s offense consistent while they wait for the pitching to come around.
“We don’t over-coach them,” Pollard said. “We try to keep them fresh and keep them focused on the right things, with the right things being approach. If we get our pitch we’re going to continue to be a good offensive club, and that’s what we’ve done a really good job of lately.”
The Blue Devils might have trouble scoring, however, against Pittsburgh (11-11, 4-5), which boasts one of the ACC’s best pitching staffs .
The Panthers will send weekend starters Matt Pidich, Josh Mitchell and Josh Falk to the hill against Duke. All three sport ERAs better than 3.00 and Pittsburgh as a team has held its opponents to fewer than five runs in 17 of its 22 games. The Blue Devil offense, on the other hand, has knocked in at least five runs in each of its last six contests.
Even though the Panthers have held their opponents in check offensively, they too have struggled to push runs across through the first part of the season. Compared to the .317 team batting average the Blue Devils faced last weekend at then-No. 19 Virginia, Pittsburgh bats a mere .229 and has blasted just eight long balls this season.
The Blue Devils hope their pitching staff can get back on track after allowing 29 runs in three games against the Cavaliers last weekend. Despite allowing six runs late in the game Tuesday against Davidson, Pollard believes his team is ready to turn a corner on the mound.
“Over the last two ballgames... we threw over 70 percent strikes,” Pollard said. “That’s a huge sign.... We’ve been very good in that department statistically speaking—that indicates that we’re trending in the right direction.”
The Blue Devils will send out junior Mitch Stallings, freshman Adam Laskey and junior Ryan Day this weekend with the hopes of getting the pitching staff back on track and putting Duke back in the win column.
Following this weekend’s series against Pittsburgh, the Blue Devils will take on the Durham Bulls in an exhibition game at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the DBAP.
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Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113. Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.