Rebuilt Gophers pitching staff is finding success

Minnesota lost major contributors from last year’s pitching staff, but has hit a stride amid changes.

Pitcher Lucas Gilbreath throws pitches at Siebert Field on April 17, 2016.

Sam Harper, Daily File Photo

Pitcher Lucas Gilbreath throws pitches at Siebert Field on April 17, 2016.

by Luke Hanlon

Since the beginning of the season, Minnesota head coach John Anderson has emphasized that the team is rebuilding its pitching staff this season.

The Gophers lost four pitchers from last season’s team, which included two main starters and a closer, but luckily for them, one is still around in the dugout.

Ty McDevitt, had an ERA of 3.77 in the 28.2 innings he pitched last season He’s no longer throwing for Minnesota, but has changed roles as a volunteer pitching coach.

“It’s been a challenge at times.” McDevitt said. “It’s been real rewarding and real frustrating.”

Beyond the addition to the coaching staff, the team’s bullpen has been retooled in a few ways.

Lucas Gilbreath had the lowest-qualified ERA on the team last season as a reliever, but given the loss starters Dalton Sawyer and Matt Fiedler, Gilbreath was told he would start in 2017.

“I got one appearance as a starter in the regional (last season) and I think that became the plan,” Gilbreath said.

The offseason was dedicated to developing a change-up to add to his arsenal, but also to making the mental changes required to become a starter.

Gilbreath said he doesn’t try to work as deep into counts now to get big strikeouts. When he has a hitter on an 0-2 count, he’s more likely to try for a groundball than a strikeout to preserve his pitch count.

The transition has gone about as smoothly as possible. In nine starts this season, he has a 2.55 ERA and a perfect 4-0 record. He has also consistently made hitters miss to rack up a team-high 57 strikeouts in the 49.1 innings he’s pitched.

Gilbreath isn’t the only one who had to switch roles.

Last season, Tyler Hanson started six games before becoming a full-time reliever.

That gave him enough time to adjust to the switch and have a productive 2017 season out of the bullpen.

Hanson said that he “definitely wanted to start,” but it’s “out of my control.”

He has embraced his role as a reliever this season, and has pitched 27 innings and with 18 strikeouts with just six walks.

He said that he, along with other pitchers on the team, preach nine-on-one baseball.

“We have nine guys against their one hitter,” he said.

This encourages the pitching staff to trust the defense behind them to make plays, which has been a safe insurance policy this season. The Gophers have the seventh-best fielding percentage in the country.

The two other main relievers in the bullpen, Tim Shannon and Brian Glowicki, have each made big strides this season as well.

Shannon’s ERA has drastically dropped from a 9.00 last season to a 2.67 this season.

Glowicki has replaced graduated Jordan Jess as the closer, and has a team-low 0.39 ERA, along with 27 strikeouts and only four walks in 23.1 innings pitched. His 14 saves are tied for the most in the country.

McDevitt attributes their success to the experience they’ve all gotten over the years.

“All of them are seniors,” he said, “They’ve all done it before.”