It’s almost as if someone rearranged the keys on Pat Mason’s computer. No matter what button he presses as conductor of the Virginia Tech bullpen, the result is undesirable.
Friday, for the third time in three ACC games, Tech held a lead heading into the opponent’s half of the seventh inning. For the third time, the Hokies blew the lead and lost the game.
Last weekend’s struggles came against Florida State and it cost the Hokies a chance to win the series.
Friday’s episode came against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and a 5-2 lead heading into the seventh frame turned into an 11-5 defeat.
“We’re not going to be perfect all the time,” sophomore reliever Luke Scherzer said. “Baseball is a game of failure. We just have to keep going out there giving it our all, and sometimes we don’t have it and sometimes we do.”
Over the last three conference games, the Hokies relievers haven’t had it. As a pitching staff, the Hokies (16-15, 6-7 ACC) have allowed 30 runs in the seventh inning or later, an average of 3.3 runs per inning. 23 of those runs have been charged to the bullpen.
Each of Tech’s six relievers that have thrown 11 or more innings this season has an ERA above 4.00 on the season. All six have thrown during the three-game drought, but none have been able to complete an outing without allowing at least one run.
“That’s what’s aggravating for me right now because it’s almost like you’re drawing straws,” Mason said. “But we will get better. We will get better and we will figure it out.
“It’s a little bit of Jekyll and Hyde with everyone.”
With ace Sean Keselica on the mound, the Hokies fell behind 2-0 in the second inning but answered with five unanswered runs between the third and sixth innings.
With the game tied 2-2 in the fifth, Brendon Hayden’s seventh home run of the year, a three-run shot off Yellow Jacket’s starter Jonathan King, just cleared the wall in right field.
Erik Payne went 2-for-5 on the night, extending his streak of games reached safely to 30, the second longest active streak in the ACC.
Payne, who didn’t know about the streak until two games ago, said the late-inning pitching woes hasn’t placed an additional burden on the offense.
“We have confidence in our bullpen. It’s just a little streak,” said Payne. “We faced two good offensive teams back to back. We have confidence in them, and we don’t feel pressure. We feel that if we give them the lead at the end of the game they will close it out for us. It just hasn’t happened the last couple weekends.”
Keselica, who’s pitch count elevated early in the contest, allowed two runs in the seventh before being pulled for Sean Kennedy. The Yellow Jackets, who knocked three doubles and a single in the inning, scored one off the lefty reliever to tie the game at five.
Scherzer gave up four runs while recording three outs, and freshman Connor Coward allowed one of his own. Most of Scherzer’s troubles result from falling behind in early in counts.
“You have to get strike one,” he said. “If you fall behind 1-0, 2-0, you have to throw a fastball down the middle or a curveball over the plate and it gets hit.
“You just have to keep fighting. It sucks, but you just keep working at it in practice, pregame preparation. We trust the system, trust the coaches’ tutelage. Keep working every single day.”
Mason admitted he has put thought into tinkering with the bullpen, though he would not release specific details of what to expect before speaking with his team.
The Hokies will try to right the ship and even the series Saturday at 2 p.m.