With a strong rotation in place, including a pair of starters that can and will throw complete games, the Cincinnati Bearcats don’t necessarily need a shutdown bullpen. Staff stalwarts Andrew Zellner and J.T. Perez combined for seven complete games last season and David Orndorff contributed one as well. Still, that left 49 games in which at least one more pitcher was needed. That means UC has not found some magic formula that will allow it not to dip into its bullpen. But how does that part of the roster shake out?
Three pitchers that we already discussed have experience pitching out of the pen. Orndorff (3.57 ERA) made six relief appearances last season and even recorded two saves. Additionally, A.J. Kullman (3.20 ERA, three saves) was used far more often as a backup arm than as a starting one, with 16 relief appearances as opposed to three starts. Lastly, A.J. Olasz split time between starting and the pen, making seven starts and six relief appearances, posting a 4.15 ERA across all of those outings.
But the bullpen was more the domain of Jarod Yoakam than anybody else’s. A 6’2” right-hander from Marysville, Ohio, Yoakam led the Bearcats with 26 relief appearances. He averaged roughly 1 2⁄3 innings per outing, although he threw at least two frames 11 times, including a stretch of six-straight games from March 21 to April 2. In that time, he allowed one run across 15 1⁄3 innings. However, Yoakam was rarely a shutdown pitcher, as his season-long ERA of 5.16 illustrates. He also nearly walked as many batters (21) as he struck out (22). Still, he was a reliable hurler for Ty Neal.
It would be good if a few more contributors stepped up to that level this season, especially as Dalton Lehnen (3.00 ERA in eight appearances), Colton Cleary (3.18 ERA in eight appearances), Chris Gang (5.25 ERA in eight appearances) and Cameron Ross (5.62 ERA in nine appearances) have moved on.
After Yoakam and the trio of pitchers competing for the third and fourth rotation spots, Clayton Colvin is the next man up. He pitched in 26 innings across 12 games last season and struck out 17 batters while posting a 4.85 ERA. A right-hander like Yoakam, he ranked third on the team in appearances.
Doug Lowe II pitched in eight games last season, filling the role of the primary lefty from the pen. He finished with 14 2⁄3 innings of work to analyze (including one start), striking out 10 and earning a single save along the way. Jack Bergren (12.00 ERA, six appearances), Tristan Hammons (10.12 ERA, four appearances), Cal Jarrett (1.80 ERA, five appearances) and Cam Alldred (16.20 ERA four appearances) are also pitchers who made a mark last season.
There are also a hand full of youngster who may get some work, including freshmen Nathan Kroger, Reese Robinson, Isaac Olson, Nathan Moore and Alex Darden.
Obviously the hope is that Zellner, Perez and the combination of Olasz, Orndorff and even Kullman will be able to go deep into games, allowing Neal to make few trips to the mound, but when he does, there are plenty of options for him to choose from.