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Baseball: Feeling neighborly

Kyle Cassily | Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Valparaiso will take a short ride east along the I-80 toll road today to play Notre Dame in a 5:05 p.m. game at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish (12-8) catch the Crusaders (2-12) in a seven-game slump, including four losses in two days to South Dakota State.

Valparaiso has struggled in its non-conference schedule, having picked up only one-run victories over Austin Peay and Bowling Green.

However, Notre Dame and head coach Paul Mainieri refuse to overlook the team from the Mid-Continent Conference.

“Baseball is the kind of game where you have to take [your opponents] one at a time, or else a team will come up and bite you,” Mainieri said.

Mainieri referenced Notre Dame’s 4-2 loss to Wright State last Tuesday in its home opener as evidence of the damage any team can inflict upon another.

Irish sophomore David Gruener will take the mound for Notre Dame. The lefty will be making his first start this season and his second overall in a Notre Dame uniform.

Despite spending most of his time at Notre Dame as a reliever, Gruener is no stranger to the rotation. He started nine games – throwing one complete game – for the Hays (Kan.) Larks of the Jayhawk League last summer, fanning 59 batters in 52 innings pitched.

In six appearances this spring, Gruener has a 2.57 ERA with five strikeouts and three walks in seven innings.

“David has pitched very well,” Mainieri said. “We just thought we wanted to give him a chance to start a game and not come out of the bullpen.”

Mainieri said Gruener will not pitch deep into the game and will most likely be limited to three innings. He will be replaced by a platoon of relievers to spread experience around the Irish bullpen.

The Notre Dame bats are coming off a strong week, during which Notre Dame scored 32 total runs in three games against Georgetown and one against Central Michigan. The bottom of the order has been a run factory for the Irish this season, with the eight and nine holes producing 35 out of the team’s 113 RBIs (31 percent).

Seniors Greg Lopez and Cody Rizzo – who currently bat in the eighth and ninth spots – lead the team in RBIs with 19 and 18, respectively.

But despite the recent firestorm of runs, Mainieri would like his team to score on a more consistent basis. Through its first seven games, Notre Dame scored only 21 runs.

“Baseball’s a funny game from one game to the next,” he said. “Some guys swing well one day and not the next. We need to develop as much consistency as we can. We’re two extremes – we’re either really good or really poor. We want to be really good on a consistent basis.”