While most Wahoo fans have their attention focused north to Brooklyn and the ACC Tournament, ACC play in baseball is kicking off this weekend. On the heels of a just completed ten game homestand, Virginia will make the trip south to Durham, North Carolina for their opening series. The opponent, of course, will be the Duke Blue Devils.
Virginia will bring a 9-4 record to Duke. The hometown Blue Devils enter the series with a record of 10-2, 8-0 at home.
Friday - 4 PM
Saturday - 1 PM
Sunday - 1 PM
In the 8th inning of Tuesday's win over Davidson, Jake McCarthy and freshman Alex Tappen collided in the outfield. McCarthy had to leave the game after the collision. Since then, there was no word on McCarthy's status until Thursday morning. Per a release from VirginiaSports.com, McCarthy sustained a left wrist injury that will keep him out approximately six weeks.
McCarthy was the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Hoos. He currently leads the team in doubles, runs scored, and stolen bases. McCarthy's eight stolen bases also leads the ACC and is tied or twelfth most in the country. McCarthy is batting .314 on the season.
Who are the candidates to replace McCarthy in the lineup? The most likely options are sophomore Jalen Harrison or freshman Devin Ortiz. Harrison replaced McCarthy in center during game action in the 8th inning. Ortiz replaced Harrison in center for the 9th inning against Davidson while Harrison shifted over to play left field.
Harrison, from nearby Palmyra in Fluvanna County, was a three sport star at St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville. He was a Rawlings and Perfect Game Honorable Mention All American his senior year of high school. As a freshman at UVA last season, Harrison played in fifteen games. Harrison went 1 for 7 (.143) during his freshman season. His only hit was a solo homer. As a sophomore, Harrison has played in four of UVA's thirteen games to date. He's currently batting 1 for 2 (.500) and has scored two runs. His hit was a triple that drove in two runs.
Ortiz was one of the headliners of UVA's freshman class. Ortiz was a Rawlings and Perfect Game 2nd Team All American as a high school senior in New Jersey. Ortiz has proven to be a versatile player for the Hoos this season making appearances in the outfield, as the designated hitter, and as a relief pitcher. As a batter, Ortiz is currently hitting 2 for 13 (.154). He has one RBI and run scored.
Make no mistake about it, this is a huge loss for the Hoos especially when combined with Cameron Simmons' season ending shoulder injury just prior to the season opener. Between injuries to Simmons and McCarthy, and Adam Haseley departing after being a top 10 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the Hoos are now trying to replace their entire starting outfield from last season.
I wouldn't be surprised if both Harrison and Ortiz log some time in center against Duke. But I expect Harrison to get the first shot at replacing McCarthy during his absence.
Projected Starting Pitchers
Friday - RHP Derek Casey (UVA) vs LHP Adam Laskey (Duke)
Casey holds onto the Friday spot in the weekend pitching rotation. Casey is coming off back to back twelve strikeout performances. In 18.2 innings pitched to date, Casey carries a 2.41 ERA on the season. Casey's 31 total strikeouts on the season leads the ACC and ranks tenth nationally.
Laskey is 2-1 on the season with a 2.65 ERA in 17.0 innings pitched. In those seventeen innings, Laskey has walked 6 and struck out 16. In his last outing against Cornell, Laskey gave up 5 hits and 2 runs (both earned) in 6.0 innings pitched in the 8-3 Duke win. The sophomore also struck out 4 and walked 4.
Last season, the Hoos hammered Laskey in a 13-6 UVA win. Laskey started the game but lasted only 3 innings. The Hoos got to him for 12 hits and 8 runs (all earned).
Saturday - LHP Daniel Lynch (UVA) vs RHP Ryan Day
Lynch needs a good outing in the worst way. One has to wonder if he struggles again if his spot in the weekend rotation becomes in jeopardy. Already bumped from the Friday rotation spot to Saturday, Lynch didn't respond well in his first Saturday start against Yale last weekend. In an 11-4 UVA loss, Lynch worked 6.0 innings, giving up 8 hits and 7 runs (all earned). He struck out 6 while only walking 2. Lynch is currently 0-2 with a 6.50 ERA on the season. In 18.0 innings pitched, he's given up 5 home runs on the season. Last season, in 77.1 innings pitched, Lynch gave up 7 home runs as a comparison.
Day, a senior, is 1-0 in 3 starts on the season. He'll bring a 3.32 ERA in 19.0 innings pitched into the game against the Hoos. He's only walked 2 on the season while striking out 21. Last time out, Day went 7.0 innings against Cornell. He surrendered 5 hits, 2 runs (both earned), and struck out 7 in the 7-2 Duke win.
Last season, Day started the ACC Tournament contest between the Hoos and Blue Devils. Duke won the game 4-3. Day picked up the win, going 6.2 innings while allowing 3 runs (all earned). He gave up 6 hits, walked 1, and struck out 1. He also hit 1 batter and threw 2 wild pitches.
Sunday - RHP Evan Sperling (UVA) vs LHP Mitch Stallings (Duke)
Sperling's breakout season continued last week in the series rubber match against Yale. Sperling had a no decision in the 7-6 UVA win. Sperling pitched 5.2 innings and gave up 4 hits, 3 runs (all earned), walked 4, and hit 1 batter. He also struck out 8. It was Sperling's worst outing on the young season, but his ERA is still only 1.62. His 23 strikeouts are second on the team and he's yet to allow a home run on the season. Batters are hitting only .107 against Sperling this season.
Duke will send another senior to the mound against the Hoos on Sunday. Stallings carries a 1-1 record and 4.72 ERA into the contest. In 13.1 innings pitched this year, Stallings has walked 11 and struck out 15. His last time out against Cornell, Duke won 7 to 2. Stallings pitched 5.0 innings and gave up only 1 run (earned). He only gave up 2 hits while striking out 6 but also walked 5.
Stallings started opposite Daniel Lynch last year in Duke's series opening 19-3 win. Stallings cruised to the win, giving up 7 hits while pitching 7.0 innings. He gave up all 3 UVA runs (earned) but walked only 1 while striking out 2.
Weather Watch (Courtesy of Weather.com)
There's no precipitation in the forecast for Friday's series opener. First pitch is scheduled for 4 PM where the temperature will be in the upper 40s.
Saturday's game is at 1 PM. There's currently only a 10% chance of precipitation at game time. The temperature should be in the mid to upper 50s.
Sunday has an 80% chance of rain in Durham with temps in the mid 40s. Depending on how the forecast shapes up, I wouldn't be surprised to see the game moved to an early start Sunday or even a late decision to hold a double header on Saturday.
ACC Network Extra will provide video streaming of all three games. The streams can be accessed on your favorite ESPN streaming platforms. The first two games of the series will also have radio streaming available through VirginiaSports.com.
Injuries have depleted a Virginia offense that was already going to be in transition following the departures of stalwarts Adam Haseley, Pavin Smith, Ernie Clement, and Robbie Coman. The Hoos are still trying to adjust to the hole left in the lineup by Cameron Simmons' injury. Removing Jake McCarthy and his speed from the batting order makes that task that much more difficult. I expect the Hoos to scratch and claw to score runs but they're going to need standout performances from the entire pitching staff this weekend.
One thing to look out for is freshman Andrew Papantonis who made his UVA debut in the Yale series. He also played in the mid-week game against Davidson where he connected for his first career home run. Against Davidson, Papantonis went 2 for 2 with a run, a home run, a walk, and 3 RBI. Freshman Brendan Rivoli made the start at DH in the Davidson game, but Papantonis pinch hit for Rivoli after the Hoos had built a nice lead against the Wildcats. Papantonis was also one of the top prospects in UVA's freshman class. He missed most of his senior season of high school baseball, but as a junior he was a 2016 First-Team Under Armour All-American.
As a team, Duke is hitting only .258 on the season. That's good for 161st in the country. However, Duke's junior outfielder Griffin Conine was a preseason First Team All-American at D1Baseball.com. The son of former MLB player Jeff Conine, Griffin Conine was rated number eleven on Baseball America's Top 100 college prospects list for the 2018 MLB Draft. He was also number 19 on MLB Pipeline's Top 50 MLB Draft prospects list. Conine is only hitting .238 with 2 home runs to date, but he's an extremely dangerous hitter who can dominate the entire series.
Based on their play to date, this was going to be a difficult series for the Hoos before the McCarthy injury. Post injury, I see Duke taking 2 of 3 on the weekend.