Baseball returned at last to Shea Field on Tuesday afternoon with a home-opener against the University of Connecticut, allowing Boston College its easiest commute this season after starting with 21 away games. Yet no one had an easy time taking the hill for BC.
Thomas Lane didn’t have everything going for him, struggling to consistently locate his fastball. The freshman starter had a decent handle on his off-speed stuff, mixing in an effective slider and changeup to get three two-out strikeouts, but the lack of control with his primary pitch prevented him from going deeper into the contest.
He hit one UConn (12-11) batter and walked three over the course of 5 1/3 innings, the last of which proved to be the final batter he faced in the fifth inning. Head coach Mike Gambino opted to go to the pen in a 1-0 game—one in which the Eagles (13-9, 3-6 Atlantic Coast) looked apathetic at the plate, often leaving the bats on their shoulders and taking seven looking strikeouts in the eventual 9-4 loss.
Lefty Dan Metzdorf entered in relief of Lane, but proceeded to hit the first and walk the second batter he faced, bringing Gambino back out for the short hook. Though Metzdorf would eventually be tagged with the loss, he didn’t fare any better than John Nicklas and Kevin Connor—two of BC’s best relievers this season—who in the ninth managed one combined out while surrendering a walk, five hits, and eventually four runs. The final man to pitch for the Eagles, John Witkowski, also gave up an RBI base hit before putting UConn away.
In between that time, it was Bobby Skogsbergh on the mound for the Eagles. Even he didn’t start off sharp, allowing the first man he faced to crush a two-RBI double, the second to hit a sacrifice fly, and the third to walk. But after that, Skogsbergh settled in. With the help of catcher Stephen Sauter, who in place of an injured Nick Sciortino threw out two UConn base-stealers, Skogsbergh faced the minimum number of hitters over the next 3 1/3, giving him a career-long outing.
“He’s been great for us, he’s done a great job coming out of the pen,” Gambino said.
Skogsbergh now has a 1.72 ERA for BC, the lowest on the team for any pitcher who has logged at least six innings. He has been the most-used guy out of the bullpen in terms of both innings and appearances, a stark contrast from just one season ago for the righty reliever, who appeared in a total of just three innings.
When he thinks back on it, Skogsbergh says he never felt quite right last year.
The pain started even before the season, arriving as he began throwing in the Bubble over the winter. His shoulder bothered him regularly as he began loosening it up on Alumni Stadium’s turf. It started to limit his ability to prep for reprising his role as a top reliever for BC baseball, after he had a bullpen-best 2.22 ERA as a freshman in 2014. At the start of 2015, he wasn’t merely feeling the usual bit of rust that oxidizes over the offseason—this was something more.
Despite the discomfort he felt, Skogsbergh pushed himself to keep pitching. He had two rough outings in mid-February, allowing two runs and getting just three outs. After that, he didn’t make an appearance for over a month, hoping the pain would pass with time. In his return to a third and final outing of the season on March 24, he held Northeastern scoreless over two innings—but he knew he couldn’t keep going.
“It didn’t feel too good, all three of those innings, so I knew something was definitely up,” Skogsbergh said.
The reliever had been open with the training staff and Gambino about the injury, and after the game they quickly decided to get him an MRI. The results: a frayed labrum, for which the doctors recommended he get surgery.
Both his parents and Gambino were up for him getting what was necessary to heal his shoulder—a procedure that would certainly put an end to his season, but has a faster recovery period than other operations, such as Tommy John. He flew back to his hometown of Chicago around the end of March, where he saw a doctor who knows the family—and works for the White Sox.
“I don’t want to say it was a blessing, but the timing was nice,” Skogsbergh said.
He was still able to qualify for a redshirt, giving him a full three more years of eligibility in NCAA baseball. So far, he’s making the most of it, recovering well this fall and so far this season succeeding in keeping the ball low in the zone, the golden rule of being a groundball pitcher.
“I’m just trying to get ahead with strike one, and then go from there,” Skogsbergh said.
While Justin Dunn and Donovan Casey are the two guys who will be seeing most of the action in the highest-pressure situations for BC, Skogsbergh isn’t far behind. He has one of the four BC saves this season, and will continue to be a top option for Gambino in the coming weeks. Having solid relievers beyond Dunn, the closer, will be especially important for the Eagles on days when Dunn might enters a situation in the middle innings, as Gambino has been unafraid to do this season.
Skogsbergh deflected much of the credit off to his pitching coach, Jim Foster, and catchers, Sciortino, Sauter, and freshman Gian Martellini, whose preparation and in-game management have led a young staff—which was far from its best on Tuesday—to the fifth-best ERA in the ACC so far this season.
“We just gotta throw what they give us,” Skogsbergh said.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor