INDIANAPOLIS, IN- In a season where things have gone notoriously well for the Butler Bulldogs, things didn’t go their way on
Saturday in a 5-1 home loss to Fort Wayne, dropping their record to a still outstanding 11-2.
Here are some quick scattered thoughts from the game Saturday and on Butler’s season so far.
- Senior starting pitcher (and Saturday’s starting DH) Garrett Christman wasn’t at his absolute best in the loss, throwing 5.2 innings, giving up six hits and three earned runs with one walk and one strikeout, but it’s easy to see why he’s had success. While his stuff isn’t overpowering (his fastball was in the mid-80s) and he didn’t flash a putaway pitch on this day, he largely put everything where he wanted. Fort Wayne, for their part, just simply squared up a couple of balls at the right time and was able to cluster hits together. In Christman’s Butler career on the mound, he has a 2.73 ERA with a .211 opponent batting average in 79 innings of work. Not bad for a guy who didn’t pitch at all in his first two years on campus.
- Often times with a coaching change, you see some immediate roster turnover or an extraordinarily young roster taking the field right off the bat for the new staff trying to mold their team in their own image. And while Butler has some youth in key places (more on that in a minute), this team is led by a group of seniors on offense in Christman, Tyler Houston, Gehrig Parker, and Michael Hartnagel who not only stayed on when head coach Dave Schrage took over the program, but have emerged as the core of a lineup that can be fairly potent when swinging it well. Christman is leading all regulars with a .357 batting average and 17 RBI. Houston, the preseason Big East Co-Player of the Year, is hitting .286, which might be considered slumping for a player with a .304 career average. Parker is hitting .265/.368/.449, and Hartnagel is hitting .283 with a .404 on-base percentage. As Schrage continues to build this program, having upperclassmen from the previous staff able to bridge the gap is huge.
- While seniors may be stealing most of the headlines offensively, you can clearly see the next star in the Butler lineup in freshman second baseman James Gargano. Hitting leadoff for Butler on Saturday, he went 2-for-4, making him the only hitter in the order to have multiple hits. The two-hit performance pushes his average to .333 with a .423 on-base percentage that’s good enough for the team lead among regulars. He’s stolen five bases in six attempts as well, also good for the team lead. The Bulldogs will have some offensive turnover to deal with at the end of the 2018 season, but in Gargano, they have a building block for the future of the program. Combined with sophomore Harrison Freed, who lined a triple into the right field corner in the fifth inning (his third triple of the season already, to go with five doubles) and tattooed a ball to dead center field that nearly made it out for a three-run homer in the ninth inning, you can see the next core of the Butler lineup clearly.
- On Saturday, a Butler offense that has scored eight or more runs on five occasions this season just never could get on track against Fort Wayne’s starter Damian Helm. The lefty starter threw seven innings, giving up four hits and one run. Perhaps the Bulldogs’ best shot to jump on Helm and put his back against the wall came in the first inning, with Butler down 1-0, when Gargano led off the game with a single, but was quickly erased when he left for second base too early on a steal attempt and got caught in a rundown. Houston followed with a single that would have at least moved Gargano to second and the following two hitters, Parker and Hartnagel both made hard contact, albeit on plays that ended in outs. We can’t know for certain how that inning ends if Gargano isn’t caught stealing, but maybe it’s a different game if the Bulldogs even the score in the first.
- Fort Wayne’s Robert Young III is a fun player to watch. In the fifth inning, with Butler already having plated a run to cut the Mastodons’ deficit to 2-1 and runners on at second and third with two outs, Houston lined a ball to right field that looked destined to land in for a two-run single, but Young laid out and robbed him, ending the threat and preserving the lead. Even on a day when he went 0-for-4, Young provided more than enough value on that play alone. And speaking of Young at the plate, there might not be a player in college baseball who swings to do damage quite like he does. Suffice it to say that it’s easy to see why he leads the team in home runs with three.