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Irish pitching prowess has Notre Dame eyeing national title

| Friday, June 17, 2022

As the Fighting Irish head to Omaha for the first time since 2002 their pitching figures to be a huge part of a potential national title run. By the numbers, Notre Dame’s pitching has been one of the best in the country all year.  As a team, they carry a 3.95 ERA. That number ranked 12th in the country — the only team remaining with an ERA under 4.

“The guys on the mound. There’s depth there.” Head coach Link Jarrett said. “This whole pitching staff is pretty special. You’ve got some lefties, you’ve got some righties that, I think, make it tough to gameplan against our team. Everyone is a little bit different. So, it presents a lot of options for us.”

Bertrand, Temple highlight starting pitching

Any discussion of Notre Dame’s pitching must begin with graduate starting pitcher John Michael Bertrand. The left-hander has been the definition of an ace for the Irish this season. Over 17 starts he pitched 103.2 innings to the tune of a 2.69 ERA and struck out 107 batters. He has a 9-3 record and became one of just 6 pitchers to throw over 100 innings and maintain an ERA under 3 in college baseball this season.

Ryan Vigilante | The Observer
John Michael Bertrand throws a pitch on June 11 against the Tennessee Volunteers in Game 2 of the Super Regional at Lindsay Nelson Stadium. The Irish fell, 12-4.

Bertrand provides outstanding length and consistency for Notre Dame, averaging over 6 innings per start. He features a complete four-pitch mix — fastball, slider, changeup and curveball — that he commands very well. Bertrand finds his strength in pounding the zone. He stays ahead in counts and limits free passes, allowing just 20 walks all season.

However, Bertrand had a difficult start in the Knoxville regional. The Volunteers rocked him for one of the worst starts of his Notre Dame career. He allowed 6 runs and didn’t get out of the fifth inning. It was a disappointing appearance for the Irish ace who had been pitching well in the postseason allowing just 2 runs — only one was earned — over 16.2 innings during the ACC tournament and the Statesboro regional.

Link Jarrett highlighted Bertrand’s importance to Notre Dame’s prospects as they head to Omaha.

“We need Bertrand to be on his A-game [against Texas],” Jarrett said. “JM needs to be better with his fastball command [than he was against Tennessee]. His breaking pitches need to have a little bit more depth. And his changeup has to be a factor against a lineup that does everything well.”

After Bertrand, the Irish have turned to rely on right-hander Austin Temple. In his first year with Notre Dame since transferring from Jacksonville, Temple has seized the role as the second starter behind Bertrand. He has a 4-1 record and 3.57 ERA this year in 68 innings across 17 appearances (14 starts).

Finally, the third starter role for the Irish has been filled by committee. Early in the year, it was senior southpaw Aidan Tyrell (5-1, 3.60 ERA). The lefty has shown flashes in his time at Notre Dame — he pitched 7.1 innings of 1-run ball in the 2021 Starkville Super Regional in Notre Dame’s only win — but struggled with consistency in the early part of the season and was moved back to the bullpen. In his place, Jarrett has recently gone with RHP Liam Simon (2-0, 5.02 ERA) who boasts an upper 90s fastball and strong secondary pitches. When it’s going well Simon is nearly unhittable. He has struck out 16 batters per nine innings this year. However, he has struggled with command at times, including his last start in Knoxville when he allowed two runs early and was pulled after just 1.2 innings.

Findlay emerges after McKlinskey injury

Coming into the year, there were question marks in Notre Dame’s bullpen. Then transfer closer Ryan McLinskey (2.42 ERA, three saves) went down with an injury for the season, leaving even more questions.

Enter Jack Findlay.

The freshman left-hander has been phenomenal in every single situation that he’s been handed the baseball this postseason. Overall, he has a team-best 1.99 ERA and a 6-2 record across 18 appearances (8 starts) and 45.1 innings. His battery mate David LaManna praised Findlay’s composure during a press conference ahead of the flight to Omaha.

“[Jack Findlay] works off his fastball. And he has two different ones, a cutter and a regular fastball. Then he has pretty good off-speed stuff. He’s just pounding the zone. Very poised, especially for a freshman, and nothing gets to him. He’s just going to make his pitches and try to get you out.” LaManna said.

Nowhere has that poise shown more than in the postseason. Findlay has stepped into the closer role down the stretch for Notre Dame. Since the ACC tournament, Findlay has pitched 11.1 innings and given up just one run. Against No. 1 Tennessee he picked up the save in Game 1 and then pitched five scoreless innings in Game 3, silencing the best offense in the country to send Notre Dame to Omaha.

Ryan Vigilante | The Observer
Irish pitcher Jack Findley only allowed one hit and no runs, recording four strikeouts in Game 3 of the NCAA Baseball Super Regional game between Notre Dame and Tennessee.

Outside of Findlay, Jarrett has also highlighted the depth of a bullpen where eight relievers have thrown more than 15 innings this season. In particular, senior right-hander Alex Rao (4.06 ERA, three saves) has pitched high-leverage innings in the postseason including in the decisive Game 3 in Knoxville. There, he pitched 2.1 innings giving up just one run before handing it off to Findlay.

Link Jarrett has also put his trust in several additional arms out of the bullpen. Since falling out of the rotation, Tyrell has been effective in a long-relief role. Graduate student LHP Matt Lazzaro (3.12 ERA) has emerged more recently and pitched in Knoxville. As did right-handed sophomore Matt Bedford who picked up a big out in Game 1. Senior Will Mercer and sophomore Jackson Dennies emerged as solid options in situations. Mercer, a lefty, is a solid matchup option, and Dennies features a strong slider that induces a lot of ground balls.

With a host of arms, this Irish pitching staff held their regional opponents to just seven runs in three games. Against the nation’s most powerful offense, they did enough. Excluding one eight-run inning in Game 2, the Volunteers notched just 13 runs, as the Irish put on a clinic in minimizing damage. They’ll need more of the same, starting against Texas, potentially the best offense remaining in the tournament.

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