Bullpen struggles as WKU drops weekend series

Junior shortstop Steve Hodgins tosses the ball to senior second baseman Ivan Hartle for a force out during the Toppers’ 8-3 loss to Southern Illinois on Sunday at Nick Denes Field.

Kurt Carson

Relief pitchers getting themselves into jams has been a common theme early on in WKU’s season.

Fans mostly saw more of the same this weekend as the Toppers (2-5) dropped their second-straight home series, this one to Southern Illinois (4-3).

The WKU bullpen logged a total of 17 innings while surrendering 15 runs over the course of the three-game set.

The heavy workload was due in large part to a 13-inning marathon on Friday, as well as WKU’s Saturday and Sunday starters — sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman and junior left-hander Tim Bado — being on pitch counts after coming back from injuries.

But much of the Salukis’ 27 total runs were bulked up in the middle innings when the Toppers’ bullpen took over on the mound — especially on Saturday and Sunday.

SIU’s offense exploded for four runs in the fifth inning and three runs in the sixth inning on Saturday, as well as five runs in the seventh inning on Sunday.

Head Coach Matt Myers said his team can’t keep giving up big innings like they have the past two games.

“These games were close when (the big innings) happened, and you can’t overcome that,” Myers said.

Freshmen left-hander Ian Tompkins and right-hander Brennan Pearson, along with junior right-handers Colton Satterlee and Andrew Zimmerman absorbed a large portion of the damage, giving up 13 combined runs in just four innings of work.

Myers said when his pitchers let people get on base or come in with runners on base, they’re coming around to score.

“We’re not keeping them on base,” Myers said. “They’re hitting our relievers pretty good right now.”

Not every Topper reliever struggled over the weekend. Senior right-hander Ross Hammonds, junior right-hander Taylor Haydel, sophomore left-hander Austin Clay and freshman right-hander Tate Glasscock combined to pitch 12 1/3 innings while only surrendering one earned run.

Bado called for the relievers who are struggling to “keep your head up.”

“It’s a long season,” Bado said. “We’re going to need everybody, and we’re short-staffed as it is, so everybody’s going to need to contribute.”

Myers said the one thing he wants the bullpen, as well as the entire team, to have coming off another home-series loss is a short-term memory.

“We have to focus on the next game,” Myers said. “This club right now is not real deep, not very experienced, and the margin for error is small. We have to take it game-by-game right now.”

WKU will play its next game Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Murray State.

Junior shortstop Steve Hodgins said he agrees the team needs to simply focus on the Thoroughbreds but that they also have things to learn from this weekend.

“You learn from failures, and we’re just going to come back tomorrow and try to get ready for Murray State on Tuesday,” Hodgins said.