UAB baseball had its 5-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday in a 4-0 loss at Auburn, but now they shift their focus to Western Kentucky as Conference USA play begins.
The Hilltoppers are 6-12 on the season and 6-8 at home where they’ll host the Blazers this weekend. UAB is just 1-4 on the road this season with their lone win coming against Georgia.
Western Kentucky is near the bottom of the conference in batting average at .266, which is still better than UAB’s team average of .229.
However, the Hilltoppers have not played great competition to begin the year like UAB has. The two teams do have one similar opponent in Valparaiso — both teams took 2-out-3 in those series.
The best hitter for WKU this year has been senior Hunter Wood. He leads the team with a .344 average, 3 home runs and 14 RBIs. Junior Steven Kraft is second on the team with a .292 average to go along with 2 home runs and a team-high 4 stolen bases batting out of the leadoff spot and playing left field.
They have five hitters with double-digit strikeouts, so I’m hoping that’s something our pitchers can exploit. However, they do take a lot of walks so our pitchers need to attack the strike zone and get ahead in the count.
As for the WKU pitching staff, they are near the bottom of the conference in ERA at 5.71 after Tuesday’s loss to Vanderbilt.
Friday night starter Ryan Thurston is 2-1 in 4 starts with a 4.56 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 23.2 innings. Obviously the strikeout numbers jump out there, indicating Thurston has some nasty stuff.
In his last outing, which came against Illinois State last Friday, he struck out 14 batters in 6 innings. He also gave up 3 earned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks.
Even though the UAB offense hasn’t been racking up the hits, they are near the top of the conference in terms of strikeouts, so hopefully they can put the ball in play and put some pressure on Thurston and the WKU defense.
Paul Kirkpatrick will probably get the ball on Saturday. He is 1-2 with a 3.70 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 24.1 innings. Batters are hitting .291 against him, so we should be able to put the ball in play. The key with Kirkpatrick is that he does not hurt himself with walks as he’s only allowed one free pass all year.
A couple of names you may see out of the bullpen for WKU is Conner Boyd, Jackson Sowell, and Kevin Elder.
Boyd leads the team with a 1.42 ERA in 9 appearances; Sowell leads the team with 2 saves in 8 appearances; and Elder has 16 strikeouts in 14.2 innings.
One thing that really plagues WKU is its defense. They are last in the conference with 32 errors, and they’ve given up 20 unearned runs.
The key for UAB winning this series will be putting the ball in play and forcing their defense to make plays.
Our pitching staff should be able to contain their offense, especially Garrett Whitlock on Friday night, but our offense needs to make sure they are putting the bat on the ball and not striking out.
Speaking of Whitlock, check out these numbers: 3-0, 0.57 ERA, 31.1 innings pitched, .130 opp. avg., 7 walks and 19 strikeouts.
The sophomore has been absolutely amazing this year, and I’m hoping that continues into conference play.
Ryan Ruggles will follow him up with a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 innings.
Unfortunately, things don’t look good for Tanner Graham as he had to leave the game on Tuesday early. The Sunday starter is up for grabs at this point, and it looks like coach Shoop is just playing it by ear depending on how the first two games go.
Offensively, the team has been hitting the ball much better lately, but unfortunately it hasn’t turned into runs. We need that to change this weekend.
Even though it’s a road series to start conference play, I really like the Blazers chances to come away with a couple of wins.
Weekend Schedule (Pitching Probables)
Friday – Bowling Green, Ky. – 5 p.m. CT
Garrett Whitlock (3-0, 0.57 ERA, 19 Ks) vs. Ryan Thurston (2-1, 4.56 ERA, 38 Ks)
Saturday – Bowling Green, Ky. – 1 p.m. CT
Ryan Ruggles (1-2, 2.04, 12 Ks) vs. Paul Kirkpatrick (1-2, 3.70 ERA, 13 Ks)
Sunday – Bowling Green, Ky. – 1 p.m. CT
TBD vs. TBD