RICHMOND, Va. – VCU may be facing 14th-ranked Virginia at an opportune time. The Rams are hitting the baseball at an impressive rate, a trend they hope continues deep into Tuesday evening.
Senior shortstop Vimael Machin has led the way. Machin, who was named Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Week on Monday, is in the midst of a 15-game hitting streak. He was 11-of-18 with six RBIs and a gaudy .696 on-base-percentage in five games last week for the Rams.
Machin was already an accomplished hitter – he entered the year batting .299 for his VCU career – before his recent hot streak, but he’s on a different level right now. Machin is batting .363 overall, eighth in the A-10, with 23 RBIs.
In addition, centerfielder Logan Farrar was 11-of-23 last week, including a 5-of-6 performance in Friday’s 16-3 win over UMass. He is hitting .303 this year with a .421 on-base-percentage, second only on the team to Machin.
Behind his lead, VCU outscored its opponents 52-7 last week. VCU Baseball Coach Shawn Stiffler says there’s a correlation between warm bats and warm weather.
“I think the biggest thing has been consistency in our routine,” he said. “I think the weather has broken, and to be able to get out here for practices on days like this and continue to work on our game. Everyone always knows, when the weather heats up, so do the bats, usually.”
VCU’s early season schedule was fraught with weather troubles. The Rams even moved consecutive home series to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to escape the unseasonably cold winter in Richmond.
“You never want to use it as an excuse, but this [was] probably as bad as during my tenure here in Richmond,” he added.
The Rams are hitting .272 overall and are scoring an average of 5.2 runs per game.
Despite VCU’s recent offensive flare up, the real strength of this year’s team has been keeping opponents off the scoreboard.
The Rams possess the lowest ERA (2.84) in the A-10 and the second highest fielding percentage (.976). VCU pitchers rank 19th nationally in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.12) and 14th in strikeouts per nine innings (9.2).
“Hitting kind of comes and goes and plays off of itself, one guy gets hot then two guys get hot, but if you can consistently pitch and play defense, you’re going to be in the game more times than not, and that’s something I take my hat off to our pitchers about. They’ve been outstanding all year,” Stiffler said.
VCU’s pitching depth has been impressive. All three weekend starters (JoJo Howie, Heath Dwyer and Matt Blanchard) own ERAs of 3.54 or better, while the bullpen has been anchored by senior lefty Matt Lees, who hasn’t been scored upon in 13 appearances (19.1 innings).
In Lees’ case, it’s been a nice bounce-back from an injury-plagued junior year. But for Dwyer, this is business as usual.
A four-year fixture in the VCU rotation, Dwyer, 21-13 lifetime for the Rams, continues to chug along. The left-hander from Arizona spun seven innings of 3-hit ball against UMass on Sunday, striking out 10. In his last three starts he is 2-0 and has allowed just one earned run in 18 1/3 innings. Dwyer is 4-1 in eight starts this season with a 3.46 ERA.