Brad Bohannon and Jason Jackson didn’t have it easy in the preseason. Alabama’s head baseball coach and pitching coach had built a deep pitching staff with little separation between the pitchers in its top tier; thus, they had the unenviable task of selecting just three to start games on opening weekend.
Those coaches didn’t focus on the preseason headache too much, because they knew it would soon become a strength.
The depth of the UA pitching staff was on display in the weekend sweep of Northeastern, and will be tested further with midweek games against Troy and Alabama State.
(**UPDATE: Alabama postponed the Tuesday game against Troy due to weather, postponing it to May 12.)
On the weekend, the bullpen took a combined 14 innings and did not allow a run, allowing five hits and three walks while striking out 15. The highlights of those bullpen performances were Tyler Ras’ three innings of one-hit ball and a perfect ninth from Dylan Smith on Friday; Casey Cobb’s two perfect innings on Saturday; and Chase Lee’s two-inning save on Sunday, following three innings of one-hit pitching from Jacob McNairy.
“It really exceeded my expectations this first weekend,” Bohannon said. “The competition is going to get tougher, and those guys will get better, too, but just the way up and down the staff commanded the baseball. A really high percentage of throwing secondary stuff for strikes. If you can change speeds and throw multiple pitches for strikes, it makes it really tough as a hitter.
“All of those guys have things that they need to improve upon, but if you had told me a week ago that the pitching would go the way that it went this weekend, we would’ve been fired up.”
The pitching was good enough to record UA’s first opening day shutout since 2015 against Maryland-Eastern Shore, and the 13 hits allowed over the weekend were also UA’s best since that same Maryland-Eastern Shore weekend when UA allowed 11 hits.
The pitching also saved William Freeman, a senior, who did not pitch against Northeastern. Bohannon said Freeman will start the Tuesday game against Troy, but since that game has been postponed, he will likely pitch the Wednesday game against Alabama State.
“Excited to see him out there,” Bohannon said. “He was outstanding in the preseason and he’s gonna have an extended outing.”
Other opening weekend history
In drawing nine walks on opening day, it was the most UA has drawn in a game since drawing 11 against Maine on March 19, 2019. Utility player Brett Auerbach, in center field that day, drew a career high three walks, after drawing two walks seven previous times in his career. He is one of just 63 players in the nation to draw five walks on opening weekend, and of those 63, 26 had the benefit of a fourth or fifth game that Auerbach has yet to play.
When UA wasn’t drawing walks, they were hitting frequently. The 36 hits over the three games were UA’s most in a three-game series since 39 against Washington State in February 2018. The hit barrage included all nine starters getting a hit on Friday and eight of the nine getting hits the other two days. In total, 11 UA players got hits in the first three games.
Diodati gets league honor
For the first time since 2016, a UA player has been named the SEC’s Freshman of the Week.
The honor went to Owen Diodati after going 6-for-9 with a double, a triple, three home runs and eight RBI in the sweep of Northeastern. He was intentionally walked in his final plate appearance of the series.
His four runs on opening day were the most in a game since Keith Holcombe on Feb., 18, 2018, and his 2.000 slugging percentage leads the nation. He is the first UA player to earn the honor since Chandler Taylor on March 21, 2016.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson