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Baseball: Pitt bats present challenge

Bill Brink | Friday, March 27, 2009

This is not the weekend for Notre Dame’s pitching to be struggling – the Irish head to Pittsburgh for a three-game series starting today.

The Panthers (13-6, 2-1 Big East) hit .321 as a team and have nine batters hitting .300 or better.

“They’re an extremely good hitting club when they’re at their field,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “The main thing is our pitchers need to step up this weekend and shut down their hitting.”

Their leadoff hitter, junior second baseman Chris Sedon, hits .444 and has a .753 slugging percentage and a .478 on-base percentage. He has successfully stolen 12 bases in 13 attempts and hit two home runs during Pittsburgh’s 14-13 win over Akron Tuesday.

“They have probably one of the hottest hitters right now in the country,” Schrage said.

The Panthers have won five of their last six and took two of three at Cincinnati. They beat Youngstown State 7-4 Wednesday.

The Irish (14-8, 1-2) have lost three of four and fell 6-5 to Oakland Wednesday at home. They also lost two of three against Seton Hall over the weekend.

Pittsburgh racked up nine hits against Youngstown State, two of them from sophomore designated hitter Joe Leonard. Leonard is batting .382 through Wednesday.

“Leonard’s a big bopper for them right in the middle of the lineup,” Schrage said.

Irish pitchers gave up eight walks and hit a batter Wednesday against Oakland and had trouble locating their pitches. As a team, the Irish have a 4.48 ERA and have walked 96 batters.

“It’s going to be up to us to try to shut their hitting down,” Schrage said. “Pitching usually wins, and our pitching has not been very good the past four games.”

The strike zone against Oakland was small, but Schrage said the team prepares for that. When the pitchers practice indoors, he said, the coaches will have them practice hitting a small or large strike zone.

“Small zones still have corners, and we’ve got to hit them,” he said.

Sophomore Cole Johnson will start for the Irish today. Johnson is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA.

The Irish bats have woken up late in the past four games, but sometimes not soon enough.

“It’s all a question of whether or not we come to play and if we get ready to go from the beginning and jump out on teams,” junior Matt Grosso said. “If we do that we can be successful. But if we lay back and let it come to us, we might have some trouble like we did this week against Seton Hall.”

Junior center fielder A.J. Pollock leads the Irish in hitting with a .391 average. He’s also 12-of-15 stealing bases. Sophomore third baseman Greg Sherry, junior right fielder David Mills and senior shortstop Jeremy Barnes all hit over .350 as well.

Pitch selection, Schrage said, has caused the Irish problems this season. The team swings at too many bad pitches early in the count.

“We’ve been doing that all year, and that’s been our biggest thing, swinging at pitches out of the zone with two strikes,” he said. “Not real good pitches early in the count. It makes a big difference.”