April 26, 2012

Dawgs looking for runs

There's an old baseball adage that hitting is contagious. For Georgia, it's been a season-long flu.

Finding the any kind of offensive consistency has been a season-long battle for skipper David Perno's squad, which enters this weekend's series at No. 4 LSU trying to end a skid which has seen the Bulldogs score three runs or less in nine of the team's 18 conference games.

"It's just something we have to keep grinding on. That's all you can do. We've got 25 percent of the season left, 14 games left, the SEC Tournament and hopefully a regional. We've just got to keep moving forward and not worry about what we've done in the past," outfielder Peter Verdin said. "It's not about what we've done the first part of the season; it's what we're doing now. We're just going to try to make a few adjustments and go from there."

It's a trend Perno has done just about everything to try and reverse, without much success.

Georgia (24-18, 8-10) enters its series against the Tigers (32-9, 12-6) having scored just 211 runs all year (fourth worse in the SEC), while Bulldog batters have struck out a league-high 298 times.

For a team looking to move into the top six of the overall league standings to ensure a post-season bid, numbers like that are a bit disconcerting.

"No doubt, we control it (earning an NCAA bid) but guys have to step up. We've been one pitch short, one play short, one hit short and until we do something different we'll continue to be short because the competition's not changing," Perno said. "Teams are as good if not better than the teams we've been playing, so we're going to have to change. That means you've got to start making that pitch, you've got to start making that play and getting some timely hits."

Perno has two changes in mind he hopes will make a difference against the Tigers.

The first is inserting nine-hole hitter Curt Powell (.324-5-30) into the leadoff. The second is getting leading hitter Hunter Cole (.370-6-32) back in the lineup after missing the past six games with a muscle pull in his lower back.

"I think he's (Cole) in there Friday, whether he wants to be or not. I'm not going to give him a choice," joked Perno, who added the mere inclusion of Cole into the lineup gives the Bulldogs a dimension it hasn't had during his absence.

"It's the ability to stretch our lineup," Perno said. "No one is really like him in our lineup right now. He can run a little bit, he can battle you a little bit; he leads our team with walks in SEC play, he has the best on-base percentage and hit for the most power. But that's like everybody in this league, you're one injury away from being average and we've certainly been average without him."

That was certainly the case in Tuesday night's 4-3 loss to Georgia Tech at Turner Field. The game saw the Bulldogs outhit the Yellow Jackets 8-7 but strand 11 runners, a matter of execution that's been another season-long problem for Perno's squad.

"Something like that is really tough to get over, especially not getting runners in from scoring position. Baseball's a weird game where you've just got to forget about it and work on the positives," shortstop Kyle Farmer said. "On the other hand, I really couldn't sleep (Tuesday) night and I know the rest of the team couldn't either because we don't like losing to Tech, or losing in general. We all made mistakes. I made a couple of big mistakes so we just need to learn from our mistakes and push forward."

What's made the lack of hitting even more frustrating is the fact Georgia's starting pitching has actually been fairly impressive as the Bulldogs enter play Friday with a team ERA of 3.72.

Led by Friday starter Alex Wood (5-1, 2.57), the Bulldogs have allowed 4.5 runs per game in SEC play. Unfortunately, the offense is scoring just 3.72.

"Our pitchers have been doing great, but we're putting a lot of pressure on them by not being able to score many runs," Farmer said. "That's something we have to find a way to change."

NOTES: As usual, Wood will start Friday's 8:07 contest, followed by Michael Palazzone (2-5, 5.46) on Saturday (7:35 p.m.) followed by Luke Crumley (1-2, 4.43) in Sunday's 2:03 conclusion, a contest that will be televised live on ESPN2. … Powell enters Friday's game on a 10-game hitting streak. During the streak he is batting .405 (17-for-42) with four RBI. … LSU outfielder Raph Rymes leads the SEC in hitting (.500-2-44).