- - Thursday, June 16, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. — It’s only when a team is having incredible success — such as earning a trip to the College World Series two out of three years — that these types of questions arise. But as Virginia prepared for another trip to Omaha, it was there.

Was the Cavaliers’ starting pitching too good?

With the rotation of Danny Hultzen, Tyler Wilson and Will Roberts eating up innings late in the season, some of the best arms in the bullpen have gone more than a week without taking the mound. On Wednesday at Davenport Field, it was suggested that maybe it was rust that led to the once-dynamite stable of relievers almost costing the Cavs (54-10) the Super Regional title.

“You are always a little fearful of that, that somebody hasn’t pitched live competitively in a game for a week or so,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said.

The Cavs’ bullpen essentially had the week off when Virginia rolled through the regional round. Roberts threw a complete game against Navy, and Hultzen went seven innings against St. John’s. Wilson went 6 1/3 against East Carolina, but no Virginia reliever got more than 1 1/3 innings of work in the regional and none threw a pitch in a pressure situation.

“When we get to Omaha, we will play a good intrasquad scrimmage where those guys will have an opportunity to pitch in a scrimmage and keep them sharp,” O’Connor said. “There’s no question that in order to win this thing at some point those guys are going to need to help us in some capacity on the mound.”

Virginia closer Branden Kline, a finalist for the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year with 17 saves, was less dominant during the final weeks of the regular season and gave up a pair of runs in Cal-Irvine’s come-from-behind victory in Game 2 of the Super Regional.

Kline also gave up the go-ahead run in Monday’s Game 3 before the Cavaliers scored two in the bottom of the ninth to secure their College World Series berth.

Middle reliever Justin Thompson, who has a 3.35 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 37 innings but didn’t pitch in the regional, gave up three runs (two earned) in the Game 2 loss.

“Those guys that pitch in the end of games, not only Branden Kline, but Thompson and those guys, they need to be put in spots where they are challenged,” O’Connor said. “That was the unfortunate thing about winning at the rate we did in the regional; they didn’t get put in those situations. But there’s nothing we can do about that. You don’t want to play close games just to get them in the game. They’ve got to handle it.”

But there has been a lot to handle. The Cavs have sat through more than 13 hours of rain delays since the ACC tournament began last month.

“A lot of guys have a routine they stick to,” reliever Whit Mayberry (5-0, 3.03 ERA) said. “A storm comes, and there’s a rain delay, and it messes with their day-to-day routine, but I think everybody has a lot of confidence that anybody coming out of our bullpen is going to get the job done.”

Junior infielder Jared King said that with a staff ERA of 2.25, the offensive players don’t worry about which pitcher takes the mound.

“We have unwavering confidence in whoever goes out there,” he said.

Virginia pitching coach Karl Kuhn said he’ll continue to use the bullpen the same way he has all year, suggesting talk of a struggling bullpen may be overblown.

“In a way, [Kline] and Justin Thompson are victims of our success, ” Kuhn said. “You can’t put it somebody else’s hands. Everybody on this bench knows who the guys are that got us to that point.”



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