Notebook: Richardson heating up; Irish running more; David Hearne out for season
Matthew DeFranks | Wednesday, February 26, 2014
At the beginning of the season, Irish coach Mik Aoki said Notre Dame needed sophomore center fielder Kyle Richardson to be productive.
This past weekend at the Irish Baseball Classic in San Antonio, Richardson was much more than productive. In four games, he was 7-for-14 (.500) with a double and four stolen bases, rebounding from a 1-for-11 (.091) opening weekend against Florida Atlantic.
“We’re a better team when Kyle is a productive offensive player,” Aoki said. “I don’t know that we need him to be as good as he was this weekend. We want for him to be that good but I don’t know that we necessarily need for him every weekend to be like that to have success.”
Richardson started the first game of the season in the leadoff spot but, after an 0-for-5 opener, has since shifted around to the sixth, seventh and ninth spot in the order.
Richardson (.320) is currently one of four Irish players above .300, joining sophomore left fielder Zak Kutsulis (.370), junior right fielder Robert Youngdahl (.370) and freshman second baseman Cavan Biggio (.364).
“In a lot of ways, Kyle can be a wild card for our team,” Aoki said. “If he’s good, it just gives us a little bit more team speed, it makes us a better defensive team. If he can be productive, we don’t need him to hit .500, we don’t need him to be other-worldly. We just need him to be productive.”
Small ball here to stay
In addition to Richardson’s four stolen bases, Notre Dame (3-4) stole four more after notching just two in the first three games against Florida Atlantic.
In 2013, the Irish stole 57 bases in 58 games but only 21 of those stolen bases returned for the 2014 season. Aoki said the aggressiveness was here to stay for Notre Dame.
“I think we have to,” Aoki said. “Obviously, you need to pick and choose your times. You don’t want to go out there and be aggressive just for the sake of being aggressive and run yourself out of innings. I think it’s something we have to do.”
Kutsulis has two steals while Biggio, junior designated hitter Blaise Lezynski, junior first baseman Ryan Bull and freshman third baseman Kyle Fiala all have one.
But the stolen bases only tell part of the story. The Irish had three sacrifice bunts and three sacrifice flies this weekend as part of their small ball attack.
“We have to sort of empty the toolbox every weekend in order to try to win games,” Aoki said. “We’re not going to be that team that’s going to hit 40 home runs on the season. You have to use everything, be it sacrifice bunt, a steal, hit-and-runs, run-and-hits. I think anything you can dream up, you have to use these days to create a little offense.”
Irish seeing double a lot
Through seven games this season, Notre Dame has turned 12 double plays to get it out of jams and innings.
“I think the double play is going to have to be a pretty staple item of our defense if because the ball is going to be in play,” Aoki said. “We’re not going to strike a lot of guys out.”
Notre Dame is striking out 7.65 batters per nine innings but Aoki said until junior right-hander Pat Connaughton finishes basketball season, the Irish lack a pitcher that will blow it by hitters, resulting in live balls.
“Our pitching staff right now is not one that we’re going to rack up strikeout numbers all over the place,” Aoki said. “Be it good or bad, some days it’s going to be good, some days it’s going to be bad, the ball is going to be in play a lot. It’s either a strength or a weakness of our staff depending on how you look at it.”
When Irish pitchers (particularly senior right-hander Sean Fitzgerald and sophomore right-handers Nick McCarty and Joey Cresta, Aoki said) are hitting their spots, Notre Dame should be inducing ground balls.
“Unfortunately, we’re just going to have those days where those balls that are being put in play are going to find holes,” Aoki said. “We’re just going to have to overcome it by scoring a few runs.”
David Hearne out for season
Aoki said sophomore right-hander David Hearne would be out for the remainder of the season and would need to undergo Tommy John surgery.
Hearne appeared in one game this season for the Irish, throwing three scoreless innings in the season-opener. He allowed three hits, walked two and struck out two.
A season ago, Hearne appeared in 21 games with a 4.70 ERA and a 1-2 record. He had 36 strikeouts and opponents hit .253 against him.
Aoki said Hearne (who can run a fastball in the 90-94 mile per hour range) felt elbow pain last summer, in the fall a bit and, most recently, in his last outing Feb. 15.
Hearne will have surgery next Thursday and should return to the Irish a year from now, according to Aoki.
Irish to go back to San Antonio
Aoki said the Irish would make return trips to San Antonio “for the foreseeable future” to host the Irish Baseball Classic.
This year’s version featured the Irish, Santa Clara, Gonzaga and Incarnate Word. Aoki said Incarnate Word and Villanova were slated for next season while Incarnate Word and Gonzaga were committed for 2016. Aoki said he needs to find a team in both seasons to complete the field.