Tulane baseball coach David Pierce sees a pretty clear pattern in his team’s results.
While baseball is a complicated game with many moving pieces, occasionally an X-factor appears.
So far in 2015, when the Green Wave (12-5) plays with a clean defensive performance, it wins. When errors and unearned runs pile up, it loses.
That was the case Wednesday night, when Tulane dropped an 8-4 decision to Southern Miss, its third defeat in the past four games. After losing a weekend series to Gonzaga last week, several Tulane players said getting back to a consistent defensive effort is the most critical factor to regaining the form it played with during its torrid 11-2 start.
In its five losses, the Green Wave has combined to commit 12 errors, leading to 14 unearned runs. Few were more damaging than the three misplays it had in the loss to USM, which sprung a season-high seven unearned runs, costing Tulane dearly in a game which it out-hit its opponent.
“If you look at the five losses we have this year, three of them are because of big innings,” Pierce said. “In those big innings, we just haven’t done as well defensively. I wouldn’t say we made our best pitches or anything, but defensively we have to be comfortable in those uncomfortable environments.
“So, I just think we have to continue playing. I don’t see anything different in our makeup or attitude at all.”
Senior infielder Garrett Deschamp echoed his coach, claiming the issues aren’t mental and said cleaning up the mistakes is among the team’s highest priority as it prepares to host Xavier this weekend at Turchin Stadium, starting Friday night at 6:30 p.m. and continuing Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Although the Musketeers (4-11) are off to a slow start, Tulane’s key concern still stands. Despite standout starting pitching — leading to a 1.70 staff ERA, best in American Athletic Conference — allowing extra outs and prolonged innings has doomed a Green Wave team that hasn’t shown consistency at the plate (.252 team batting average) and needs to keep scores low to stay in contention.
But that doesn’t mean Pierce is spending his clubhouse meetings harping on the miscues.
“The one thing we really try to avoid is talking about errors,” Pierce said. “It’s just a simple fact that players prepare and they know they’re supposed to make plays and they put enough pressure on themselves.
“So I really encourage them to want the ball hit back to them and put the past behind them.”
Pierce is, however, going to mix things up on the mound for the first time this season. Redshirt junior Alex Massey has been replaced on Saturday by junior Emerson Gibbs.
Gibbs (2-0, 0.93 ERA) will be sandwiched between a pair of The American’s best starters, ace Corey Merrill (1-1, 1.40) and Tim Yandel (2-0, 0.68).
“(Gibbs) just keeps getting better and better and right now he’s a three-pitch guy who we can count on with a plus curveball and a plus change,” Pierce said. “He gives us a really good chance at managing the game. He’s also fresh and confident.”
But, ultimately, starting pitching isn’t what lost Tulane its No. 25 ranking last week. It’s what’s happening behind them in the field.
“We want to kind of take out our anger on (Xavier) because we felt like we’ve played well enough to win but some bad innings and a few plays here or there have cost us,” Deschamp said. “Our pitchers have played so well and they’ve kept throwing well.
“We just need to come out on Friday and clean things up and that can change everything pretty quickly. All you can do is stick with the plan and believe in it and we know we’re good enough to come out and get back to playing the way we were before.”
Rogers on watch list
Tulane sophomore catcher Jake Rogers was named to the 2015 Johnny Bench Award Watch List on Wednesday. The watch list currently lists 75 catchers and will be narrowed down to semifinalists on May 14. Rogers is tied for the team lead in RBIs with nine while also scoring four runs.
Rogers is hitting .220.