This is the fourth of a four-part series previewing the 2019 Bryant University baseball team. BryantBulldogs.com previewed the Bulldog catchers on Monday, the infielders on Tuesday and the outfielders on Wednesday.
SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The word electric was thrown around a great deal when talking with Bryant University baseball head coach Steve Owens about his pitching staff this spring.
It comes with good reason as the Bulldogs welcome back three weekend starters from a year ago and a bevy of experienced arms in the bullpen.
"We have a pretty good idea about our starters and a pretty good idea with our backend guys," Owens said. "All of our pitchers have the talent to do it and we'll see who can get it done."
Bryant's opening weekend rotation will be sophomore Tyler Mattison (Fort Ann, N.Y.), junior Vito Morgese (Warwick, N.Y.) and senior Steve Theetge (Syracuse, N.Y.). The trip combined to make 35 starts last spring and posted 16 of Bryant's 32 wins on the year.
"To have three weekend-type starters back is a huge bonus," Owens said. "They're all Friday guys who have worked at a high level and we are looking for special things from all three of them."
Mattison started and pitched out of the bullpen in his first season with the Black and Gold last spring. In 14 appearances, seven starts, Mattison went 5-2 with a 3.40 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 53 innings on his way to All-NEC Second Team and Freshman All-American honors. He posted four quality starts, dominated league opponents to the tune of a 1.70 ERA in NEC-only games and showed durability throughout the year.
Now, after a successful summer in the New England Collegiate League with Newport, Mattison has gotten bigger and stronger and will be the first sophomore since James Karinchak in 2016 to get the ball on opening day.
"Tyler's got a power arm, a plus changeup and is in tremendous shape," Owens said. "If his performance matches how hard he's worked to get to this point, it could be a special year for him."
After proving himself as a true freshman with midweek victories over URI and UConn, Morgese showed he can pitch on the weekends as well last Spring. He also went 5-2 and finished second on the team with 73 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings. Morgese enters his third season with a 9-8 overall record in 28 appearances and has struck out nearly seven batters per nine innings in his career.
"Vito's added pitches to his arsenal, he's throwing harder, he has better command and is in better physical shape," Owens said. "When you add those things together, he is very fun to watch."
Anchoring Bryant's opening week rotation will be Theetge, the most experienced pitcher on the Bulldogs' roster. Theetge enters his final season in Smithfield fourth in DI program history in wins (23) and in the top 10 in innings pitched (241.2) and strikeouts (174). He needs just seven wins to tie the program record for victories and is coming off a year in which he won six games and tossed a career-high 87 1/3 innings.
"I want Steve to be able to go longer in games," Owens said. "I want him to bear down and pitch longer without increasing his pitch count."
After the weekend rotation, the Bulldogs have a deep group that is expected to take another step this spring. That includes fifth-year senior Justin Snyder (Georgetown, Mass.) and senior classmates Nathan Wrighter (Windsor, N.Y.) and Craig Lacey (Westfield, Mass.). The trio has combined to appear in 160 games and have Bryant's leader in appearances over the last three years.
An All-NEC First Team reliever in 2016, Snyder will look to wrap up his career with another stellar performance in 2019. He returned from injury last spring to post a 3.52 ERA in 23 innings and owns a career ERA of 3.75 and 11 saves.
Wrighter has been Bryant's most-used reliever the last two seasons and is coming off a season in which he led the NEC with eight saves. He went on to win the Joe Nathan Reliever of the Year Award in the New England Collegiate League last summer and has allowed just 10 extra-base hits in 324 at-bats.
Lacey has pitched in multiple roles over the course of his career, making 49 appearances and seven starts. Last spring, he tied the Bryant DI program record for wins by a reliever with five and finished with a 3.47 ERA in 36 1/3 innings. Lacey was tough on hitters last year, holding them to a career-low .218 average.
"We are hoping for Nate to go shorter and be electric," Owens said. "We expect him to be better than he was as a sophomore. Craig's pitched well this offseason with better breaking stuff. Justin was a huge part of one of the most electric seasons in our program's history and his role this year is to pitch as many times as we can get him the ball. If he stays ahead, he's got the ability to get good hitters out."
Another veteran arm the Bulldogs are looking to is Chris Wright (Cumberland, R.I.). Bryant's starting first baseman, Wright made 11 appearances (8 starts) as a freshman but pitched just three times last spring due to a wealth of position player injuries. Last summer, he proved he can do both at a high level as he struck out 24 batters over 14 2/3 innings for Brewster in the Cape Cod League.
"Chris is going to pitch a ton," Owens said. "We are going to get him out there as much as we can because he's got a pro-type arm and is very confident."
Bryant's bullpen will also consist of junior Jack Ipsen (Eatontown, N.J.), redshirt sophomore Nash Eppard (Essex, Conn.), redshirt juniors Jack Owens (Scituate, R.I.) and Mason Palmieri (Lincoln, R.I.), sophomores Matthew Stansky (Douglas, Mass.), Tyler Schoff (Lee Center, N.Y.) and Will Treuel (Wolfeboro, N.H.), and freshmen John MacDonald (Stamford, Conn.), Mike Randazzo (Fairfield, Conn.) and Jackson Harrigan (Acton, Mass.).
Ipsen has appeared in 31 games in his first two seasons and the Bulldogs feel he's pitching his best baseball right now and believe he'll be a big part of the bullpen.
Eppard is another guy that the Bulldogs are expecting to play a key role this spring. After missing his true freshman season, Eppard struck out the side in his collegiate debut and now the Black and Gold want him to be an even bigger asset this year.
Three of the most electric arms in Bryant's bullpen will be Treuel, Schoff and MacDonald. Treuel battled through control issues last spring but didn't allow a run over his final 3 2/3 innings. Schoff tossed just one inning last spring and MacDonald enjoyed a stellar prep career at Westhill in Connecticut.
"Will has an electric arm and has made some changes that make us think he's going to take another step," Owens said. "Tyler could be a midweek starter but is electric out of the bullpen with three good pitches and I love John's in-your-face attitude."
Owens and Palmieri give the Bulldogs a veteran presence in the bullpen and both have proved their ability to get the job done. This winter, Owens has pitched very well in short outings. Stansky, Randazzo and Harrigan will provide the Black and Gold with a bevy of options in terms of situational pitching.
Stansky made 18 appearances as a freshman last spring and features a devastating slider that he showcased in league play, striking out four over 3 1/3 innings of relief. Randazzo gives the Bulldogs a lefty specialist and Harrigan has taken big strides during the winter after making the team as a walk-on in the fall.
Bryant opens the 2019 season with a three-game series at Abilene Christian beginning on Friday, Feb. 15.