Once the strength of the team, the starting pitching staff turned out to be a major weakness in 2017. Just a year after Andrew Zellner and J.T. Perez looked like Cincinnati’s version of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both starters stumbled and the supporting staff also had some trouble.
It begins with Zellner. He just didn’t have it in his senior season. His struggles were so pronounced he was even taken out of the starting rotation for a bit. It was a major letdown after the right-hander was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference hurler in 2016. In all he went 3-5 with a 5.98 ERA, his worst since his freshmen season, while pitching all of 64 2⁄3 innings and striking out 43. He had times of success, pitching well against Northwestern State, Arkansas State, Memphis and Tennessee, but the collector of complete games from the previous season was nowhere to be found.
Perez did his best to take on the ace mantle, but the southpaw couldn’t get the job done either. He had a better year than Zellner to be sure, but that isn’t saying all that much. Perez did lead the team in strikeouts (60), innings pitched (76 2/3), but his 4.42 ERA and 2-7 record were much worse than his 6-5 and 2.97 marks from 2016. His best start of the season came on April 21 against East Carolina when he threw seven shutout innings while striking out eight, but that type of effort didn’t occur as often as the Bearcats needed.
I guess you could call A.J. Olasz the third starter for the staff, although David Orndorff certainly helped a ton as well. Olasz ranked third on the team in games started (10), but the junior only lasted more than four innings twice and his 5.35 ERA certainly wasn’t any indication that he was overly effective.
Meanwhile, Orndorff was the team’s best pitcher this season, appearing in 21 games overall. He posted a 3.41 ERA and became more of a bullpen piece as the season wore on, but that didn’t stop Ty Neal from putting him out as a starter at times. Some of his best outings were starts against Arkansas State and Tulane, allowing three runs over eight innings in the former and one run over six innings in the latter.
After the quarter of Zellner, Perez, Olasz and Orndorff, a few other pitchers got a chance to start a handful of games. Sophomores Cam Alldred and A.J. Kullman combined for six starts and showed promise. Freshmen Nathan Kroger and Reese Robinson had five starts between them and both also did decent work in the bullpen, meaning there might be hope for the future of the rotation after all.