The Bisons open a three-game series with Murray State Friday at 4 at Ken Dugan Field at Stephen L. Marsh Stadium. Senior right-hander Josh Smith, a preseason All-Atlantic Sun selection, will start the opener. Senior right-hander Matt Bowling will be on the mound in the second game Saturday at 2. Sophomore right-hander Davey Hackett will get the call Sunday at 1.
The pitching staff is under the direction of assistant coach Tyler Shrout who is also making his debut with the Bisons this weekend.
Shrout is confident that Smith is going to give the Bisons a chance to win against any team in the nation. Smith is the only returning starter from last year’s weekend rotation. He is making the transition to the No. 1 pitcher in the rotation.
“Pitching won’t change for Josh,” Shrout said. “They are the same hitters whether you are facing them Friday or Saturday. The biggest difference will be not letting the hype and emotions of pitching on Friday night get to him.
“He is what he is. He is a competitor. He has wanted the No. 1 spot. I think it is his time to shine.”
Bowling has been both a starter and a reliever. He throws in the upper 80s to lower 90s with a good breaking ball and changeup. Shrout has stressed to Bowling the necessity of not giving up big innings as a starter.
“Matt has always had the stuff,” Shrout said. “Between the ears he has matured. He just has to get out of his own way on the mound and just pitch instead of trying to make a perfect pitch every time.
“If there is a walk or an error or he gives up a couple of hits he has to understand damage control. If he gives up one or two runs that is fine, but don’t give up four or five.”
Hackett may be the biggest surprise this season. Shrout likes Hackett’s mechanics and thinks he has the talent to be a solid starter.
“Hackett has gained some strength and improved his ability to locate pitches,” Shrout said. “He has wanted velocity all of his life. But we have got him using a two-seam with a lot of run on his fastball. His stuff has gotten better. I will match him up with anyone else’s No. 3 pitcher.”
Sophomore right-hander Dannie Strable, a junior college transfer, will be a fourth starter and could also find his way into the weekend rotation. He throws from 85 to 88 on his fastball. He also can be effective with both his breaking ball and his changeup.
“Dannie is a three-pitch guy,” Shrout said. “He is going to need all three of his pitches to work.
“He only has one year under his belt. I see him being our first long reliever the first couple of weekends. He will bridge the gap to our closer. He will start in mid-week games. It wouldn’t surprise me if he finds his way into the starting rotation.”
Shrout is working with 15 pitchers. Only five are returning from last year’s staff. Smith and Bowling are the only seniors. The depth in the bullpen is expected to take some pressure off of the starters.
“Only having five guys returning is good and bad,” Shrout said. “We are definitely young, but this is going to allow them to create an identity that is different from last year’s and more importantly is part of my philosophy.
“They were wide open to trying new things. It has been good. They have created an identity of competing. That is the one thing I demand of them _ to compete with what they have got that day.”
In addition to Strable, there are some additional choices in the bullpen. Junior college transfer Alex Ross is a left-handed reliever. Two freshman left-handers, Chris Nunn and Blake Fonfara, are going to get some time on the mound as relievers if they show they can consistently throw strikes.
Mike Grace, a junior college transfer, is a right-hander who has gotten stronger since arriving at Lipscomb. Sophomore right-hander Josh Cotham will also be competing for innings after bouncing back from an injury.
Right-hander Chad Fromm, another junior college transfer, is going to serve as the primary closer.
“The closing role is Chad’s to lose,” Shrout said. “He has the prototypical makeup of a closer. He competes on every pitch. He is a little animated on the mound, but he doesn’t let the emotions affect him.
“He is an upper 80s to lower 90s guy with an above average swing-and-miss breaking ball. He is a typical high velocity swing-and-miss closer that we have not had before. Hopefully, he will be seen twice on a weekend. We are going to use him as much as his arm will allow.”
In addition to the depth in the bullpen, Shrout also thinks the Bisons will be more of an offensive power.
“We are going to hit a lot better than last year,” Shrout said. “I think we are going to field it better.
“The margin of error is not one or two runs like it was last year. We might give up some runs early, but our pitchers have to compete and give us a chance to win.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations