Patrick Duester could not find the plate in the sixth inning of Tulane’s 10-9 loss at UNO on Wednesday.
He walked two batters, plunked another one and threw hittable pitches when he was forced to get the ball in the strike zone, allowing six base runners before he was lifted.
Unfortunately for the Green Wave, his struggles were representative of entire relief staff early in the season.
Tulane (8-5) is in dire need of some good arms out of the bullpen heading into a weekend series against Furman (7-5) at Turchin Stadium.
While giving up nine runs in five innings against UNO, the Wave relievers ran their season total to a whopping 40 runs in 46 innings, undercutting a team with terrific starting pitching and its best run production in nearly 10 years.
“If you don’t trust your stuff in the strike zone, you can’t pitch,” coach David Pierce said. “I would rather have somebody earn it and drive the ball out of the ballpark as opposed to nibbling and giving up free passes.”
Duester is the primary head-scratcher. Solid as a midweek starter last year (7-6, 3.21 ERA), he has produced a fat 14.14 ERA in six appearances, with all but one of them coming in relief. He has walked 13 in seven innings after issuing 32 free passes in 70 innings as a junior, and opponents are pounding him, too, with three doubles and a home run among their 10 hits.
A 7-2 lead against UNO turned into a 7-6 nail-biter during his short stint on Wednesday. He recorded only one out while giving up three runs in a 13-4 loss at Southeastern Louisiana on March 2.
“He’s toyed physically with his mechanics, but honestly it’s much more mental for him,” said Pierce, who met with Duester in his office Thursday. “He’s got to get himself back to being aggressive in attacking the strike zone. His arm placement and his stuff are good, so that’s why I keep putting him back out there.”
The other relievers haven’t fared much better.
Tim Yandel (four appearances, 15.43 ERA), Eric Steel (five appearances, 9.00 ERA), J.P. France (five relief stints, 8.44 ERA) and Christian Colletti (five appearances, 4.15 ERA) have been ineffective for the most part, prompting Pierce to consider using designated hitter Jeremy Montalbano out of the bullpen.
Montalbano, a Texas transfer hitting .333, has not pitched since high school in 2012.
“Patrick and Tim Yandel have gone out there and haven’t reached their full potential, and there are a few unknowns,” Pierce said. “We’ve dropped two games trying to develop the bullpen. That’s part of learning and growing.”
The Wave is strong everywhere else. Its 13 home runs through 13 games are three more than its season total for 2013 and 2014 and nearly half of last year’s 29 in 60 games, putting it on pace for the most long balls since 2009. Starting pitchers Corey Merrill, Alex Massey, Emerson Gibbs and Ross Massey have combined to give up four earned runs in eight home games.
Pierce lamented three fielding breakdowns that cost Tulane in the ninth inning against UNO, but it is easy to find the real sore spot.
“The bullpen has been an issue,” he said. “It’s obvious.”
Furman, a member of the Southern Conference, is 216th in the RPI according to WarrenNolan.com. The Paladins lost 5-4 to South Carolina on Wednesday and are hitting .292 with an ERA of 5.69. ... With heavy rain and wins anticipated in New Orleans for Friday, Pierce said contingency plans were being made for a Saturday doubleheader.