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No. 11 FSU baseball weekend preview: 3/6-3/8 at No. 12 Duke

‘Noles hit the road for the first time to start ACC play against a talented Duke team.

Brett Nevitt

Florida State enters the third weekend of the season with a 9-3 record after walking off a previously unbeaten Mercer team. The ‘Noles are still ranked in the top 20 and will get a ranked opponent for the second straight weekend with the Duke Blue Devils. Duke is one of the more underrated baseball programs in the country, but Chris Pollard has built a consistent winner in the ACC.

So far this season, the Seminoles’ pitching staff has led the way. FSU is ranked 30th in the country with a 2.65 ERA. The ‘Noles have also compiled a 1.19 WHIP, 11.97 K/9, and .194 batting average against. At the plate, Florida State continues to work deep counts as they have the seventh best on base percentage in the country at .436. FSU is second in the nation in drawing walks and hit by pitches. FSU’s team average sits at .257 with an OPS of .836. The defense has continued to hold them back, with the nation’s 12th-worst fielding percentage at .941. The ‘Noles are making 2.25 errors per game.

On the flip side, Duke is a team that refuses to beat themself. The Blue Devils have the number one fielding percentage in the nation at .991, as they’ve made just four errors in 12 games. For the second straight weekend, Florida State will face a potent pitching staff. The arms don’t have as much fire power, but the Blue Devils execute as well as anyone in the country. Duke’s 1.42 team ERA is #1 in the country, while its 0.90 WHIP is third in the country. The pitching staff also keeps the ball in the zone, walking just two batters per nine. Duke’s offense is hitting .262 with a .398 OBP and .412 SLG.

Friday 3/6, 4:00 PM

Probable Starters: RHP CJ Van Eyk vs. RHP Bryce Jarvis

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

The Durham Bulls Athletic Park will feature one of the premier ace vs. ace matchups tonight. CJ Van Eyk will get the start for the ‘Noles after six innings of one-run ball versus a tough FAU lineup. Van Eyk still had issues with command as he walked five batters, but worked around the free passes by giving up just one hit and striking out eight. The junior has compiled a 1.23 ERA and 1.27 WHIP through three starts.

Bryce Jarvis has been sensational to start the 2020 season. Two weeks ago, the RHP tossed a 95-pitch perfect game against Cornell for the first Perfecto in the Blue Devils’ history. Jarvis has a 0.90 ERA and 0.55 WHIP through three starts. His K-BB ratio of 28-1 is third in the nation while his 0.45 BB/9 is thirteenth in the nation. Jarvis will work with a low to mid 90’s fastball and power slider combo. Florida State will likely try to work his pitch count and get him out of the game by the sixth inning.

Saturday 3/7, 1:00 PM

Probable Starters: LHP Shane Drohan vs. RHP Cooper Stinson

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Shane Drohan showed major signs of improvement with his command and efficiency last weekend. The LHP worked into the fifth inning for the first time in 2020, and would’ve completed five innings with just one walk if not for an error. The junior has compiled a 2.92 ERA with a 1.57 WHIP. Drohan has limited damage with the nation’s 25th-best K-rate, striking out 15.32 batters per nine. With Duke’s three best hitters being natural lefties, this should be a favorable matchup for the southpaw.

For as good as Jarvis has been, Cooper Stinson isn’t far behind. The RHP has thrown 3.1 less innings, but is yet to give up a run this season. Stinson is one of just 12 pitchers in the nation yet to give up a run while throwing at least 15 innings. Like Jarvis, he has thrown strikes at an extremely high rate, walking just one batter. He’s also struck out 17 batters and held opponents to a .186 average. The sophomore will also sit low 90’s with the fastball, pairing it with a low-80’s slider.

Sunday 3/8, 1:00 PM

Probable Starters: RHP Conor Grady vs. RHP Jack Carey

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Conor Grady had his first hiccup of the season last week, as the Red Raiders touched him up for two runs in three IP. Grady didn’t look like his normal self, not commanding the zone nor getting swing-and-misses on the off speed. He still has a 2.05 ERA and 0.85 WHIP through three starts. The junior’s focus will likely be on more competitive off speed pitches on Sunday. He doesn’t have to throw it in the strike zone, but when he keeps it around it, the slider and changeup will induce weak contact at a high rate.

Jack Carey may have the best raw stuff of the Duke starters. Carey is a power arm, sitting from 93-94 and topping out at 95. He also boasts a sharp, power slider. Through 14 innings, the RHP has posted a 3.21 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. The sophomore has also struck out 16 batters in 14 innings.

Duke top performers

Michael Rothenberg has started the year red hot at the plate. Rothenberg has a .364 average and six extra base hits through 12 games. He’s also worked 10 more times free passes than strike outs. His 1.205 OPS and 14 RBI lead the team. The junior catcher is the leader on the field and in the box for the Blue Devils.

Matt Mervis has been Duke’s biggest power threat in 2020. The senior has posted a team high eight extra base hits and .674 OPS to start the year. Mervis also leads the team with 14 hits, hitting .326 through 43 at-bats. The left-handed hitter has struck out just seven times, while working 11 free passes.

Joey Loperfido is the Blue Devils’ spark plug atop the lineup. Loperfido is a burner in the outfield and on the base path. The junior accounts for five of Duke’s 10 stolen bases, has two triples, and is hitting .316 to start the year. FSU has to keep him off the base paths to have success on the hill this weekend.

FSU headlines to watch for

Will Reese Albert and Nander De Sedas kick it into gear?

It’s been a slow start to the season for Reese Albert and Nander De Sedas. Both were thought to be in the top five of FSU’s orders and key contributors going into the season. Through 12 games, both are hitting below .200. Albert, who missed all of fall, is hitting just .159 while striking out a team high 21 times. His timing just isn’t there yet and has resulted in lots of late swings. De Sedas is hitting .190 and has a team low OPS of .560. The sophomore has just eight hits and zero extra base hits through 42 at-bats. FSU’s lineup needs their bats to heat up to extend the lineup past the first four batters.

Can FSU’s offense put pressure on the Duke defense?

Mike Martin Jr. has expressed the need to put pressure on quality opponents to force them into mistakes. But to put pressure on opponents, FSU has to put the ball in play, something they have struggled with. The Seminoles are striking out 12 times per game through 12 games. Besides Tyler Martin and Carter Smith, all of FSU’s starters have double digit K’s. With multiple pitching duels expected this weekend, I’d expect Junior to play small ball early and often, forcing Duke’s defense to make plays.

Will Jimmy Belanger get more out of his LHP depth in the bullpen?

FSU does have a lot of depth in their bullpen, but unlike last year, it’s coming out of the RHP’s. Last year, FSU had almost no righty options before JC Flowers besides Chase Haney. This year, Haney has been aided by Tyler Ahearn, Jack Anderson, and Davis Hare. Antonio Velez and Parker Messick have dealt from the left side, but with the way Meat wants to utilize matchups out of the pen, they need better innings from three other lefties. Veterans Clayton Kwiatkowski and Jonah Scolaro and freshman Bryce Hubbart have all struggled to start the year. If FSU wants to be able to mix and match for 27 innings of a weekend series and keep their arms fresh throughout the year, they’ll need more out of those three arms.