Change has been a constant for Georgia’s pitching staff this season.
Georgia pitcher Bryan Benzor delivers to the plate during the Bulldogs' win over Georgia Tech on April 23 at Turner Field in Atlanta.
But early-season struggles have settled down and the recent results on the mound have remained quite consistent despite a healthy dose of youngsters on the staff.
“Our biggest thing has been consistency,” Georgia senior Blake Dieterich said. “We’re doing a good job of throwing strikes and keeping the ball down in the strike zone. I don’t think our strikeout numbers have been terrible, but we’re doing great at getting outs. In situations where we need double plays, we’re getting double plays.”
Georgia comes off of its best pitching week of the season as it allowed four runs in three games, all against ranked teams.
“Our pitching staff, we just want to go in there and pound the strike zone and use the great defense we have behind us,” Georgia senior Bryan Benzor said. “We try to simplify things and not try to do too much. We don’t always go for strikeouts, but there are sometimes we might need to do that. Given how great our defense is, we don’t need to be going out there to try to overpower people and do too much. We just want to stay within ourselves and keep it simple and let the eight guys behind us do what they came here to do.”
The Bulldogs will likely shake up its rotation again this weekend as seniors Benzor and Dieterich will likely get starts. Patrick Boling will move to the bullpen and a shoulder strain will limit Jared Walsh to batting and playing first base.
“Blake is having a tough time maintaining anything from a bullpen standpoint, and we’ve just got to get more innings out of him,” Georgia coach David Perno said “It helps him and makes him better. It gives him a chance to really contribute. It’s going to help Boling because he can be up every day.”
Dieterich has been one of Georgia’s most durable and versatile pitchers the last two years. He has worked anywhere from closer to weekend starter and was projected to be the bullpen anchor after closer Pete Nagel was lost to Tommy John Surgery before the season started. But Dieterich strained his shoulder against Auburn, missed two weeks and had some rough outings as he tried to work through the injury. Dieterich pitched four scoreless innings against Georgia Tech and Arkansas last week.
“I feel great, I feel like I’m back to where I was earlier in the season,” Dieterich said. “I’ve never felt better, actually.”
Benzor has moved from weekend starter to the bullpen to midweek starter and back to weekend starter this season. He started Georgia’s 17-0 midweek win against Georgia Tech and pitched three shutout innings. Walsh moved from the bullpen to a weekend starter in addition to playing right field this season. The shoulder strain will limit him to first base at least until next week.
Georgia has a mix of senior veterans such as Dieterich and Benzor, along with freshmen weekend starter Sean McLaughlin (4-5, 3.14), who pitched nine innings in a 2-1 loss to Arkansas last Saturday. Several of Georgia’s bullpen regulars are in their first seasons as major contributors, such as closers Dylan Cole (0-0, 2.50, three saves), Jarrett Brown (0-0, 1.99, one save), Ross Ripple (1-1, 3.90) and Mike Mancuso (0-1, 4.58).
“It’s been great to see the young guys kind of grow up into the pitchers they’re going to become as their careers progress here at Georgia,” Benzor said. “I feel like they didn’t have as steep of a learning curve because we’ve got some older guys who have some experience who have been able contribute. When we’ve faced some adversity we’ve been able to bounce back because we’ve seen it before. We’ve been through the fire. Now, we’ve got to be strong down the stretch and keep us in the game so we can make a run at the (Southeastern Conference) tournament.”
Georgia (16-28, 4-16 SEC) plays Tennessee (18-25, 6-15) in a three-game series beginning at 6 p.m. today at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. Georgia is in last place in the SEC East and has the worst record in the league. But it is just 2 1/2 games behind the Volunteers with nine games remaining in the conference season. Georgia must finish ahead of two teams to qualify for the SEC tournament, so a series win in Knoxville is vital.
“The struggles, it’s not one person. It’s not one game. It’s just bounced all over the place,” Perno said. “If the pitching would have been this good early in the SEC we’d probably be looking at a little different record and vice versa, if we have been scoring more runs, we’d probably be looking at a different record. The onus is on everybody and obviously the large part of it is on me. We’ve just got to keep pushing and keep improving.”
Georgia at Tennessee
When: 6 p.m. today; 7:05 p.m. on Saturday; 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Where: Lindsey Nelson Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: WRFC 960-AM.
Video: CSS on Saturday, ESPNU on Sunday.
Records: Georgia is 16-28, 4-16 in the SEC; Tennessee is 18-25, 6-15.
Rankings: Georgia is unranked; Tennessee is unranked.
Probable starting pitchers
Today: Georgia RHP Bryan Benzor (3-2, 4.38) vs. Tennessee RHP Aaron Quillen (1-3, 6.33).
Saturday: Georgia RHP Sean McLaughlin (4-5, 3.14) vs. Tennessee RHP Nick Williams (2-3, 4.94).
Sunday: Georgia LHP Blake Dieterich (2-2, 2.67) vs. Tennessee RHP Zack Godley (4-5, 2.88).
Players to watch
Tennessee: Third baseman Will Maddox is batting a team-high .354 with 19 RBIs. … Right fielder Pierce Bily is batting .286 with a team-high 24 RBIs. … Left fielder Vincent Jackson is batting .296 with one home run and 19 RBIs.
Georgia: Third baseman Curt Powell is batting .381 and is second in the SEC with 69 hits. … Shortstop Kyle Farmer is batting .302 with three home runs and a team-high 41 RBIs. … Second baseman Nelson Ward returned to regular duty last week and is batting .322.
Series: Tennessee leads 106-86 in games dating back to 1950.
Last meeting: Georgia took two of three in Athens last year.
Season at a glance: Georgia lost two games at home against Arkansas and had a third rained out last week. Tennessee dropped two of three at Florida and lost 7-6 at home to Middle Tennessee on Tuesday.
Noteworth: Georgia announced the signing of junior college pitcher Jared Cheek on Thursday. Cheek started his career at Georgia Southern and is playing at Florence-Darlington Technical College in Florence, S.C. this season. … Georgia has not played since last Saturday. Georgia’s Sunday game against Arkansas was rained out and the Bulldogs did not have a midweek game because of final exams. … This is the start of an eight-game road trip for Georgia with weekend stops in Tennessee and South Carolina plus midweek games at College of Charleston and Georgia Tech. … Georgia third baseman Curt Powell is a native of Knoxville and went to Farragut High School. … Georgia shortstop Kyle Farmer is tied for the NCAA lead with 10 sacrifice flies. … Georgia left-hander Jarrett Brown has a team-high 21 appearances. … Georgia’s Dylan Cole is 3-for-4 in save opportunities since moving to closer in March. … Tennessee’s Maddox is second in the SEC in stolen bases with 18. He stole home on Tuesday for the second time this season against Middle Tennessee. … Tennessee has played 16 one-run games this season and has a 6-10 mark in those contests. … Tennessee had 10 hits against Middle Tennessee.