Lincoln set to start baseball season

Looking for improvement on the mound

While there’s no telling what the season will bring once it gets into full swing, there’s one thing for certain about the Lincoln University baseball team — they can’t pitch like they did last year.

But take another look at that word — can’t. It’s not that they’re not capable, it’s that they can’t afford to do things like they did.

“The staff’s not going to blow anybody away,” said Lincoln coach Jim Dapkus, whose team will open the season with a doubleheader today at Missouri S&T. “We had guys that threw harder last year, but we didn’t throw a lot of strikes. ... I don’t even look at our pitching stats from last year, because I know it was way too many walks and way too many hit by pitches where we just gave other teams too many opportunities to score.

“... This year, the velocity is down, but we have more guys who have command of more pitches. In the preseason, they’ve looked really good in terms of strike totals and hitting spots, and that’s all we’re going to ask of those guys.”

The staff will feature a number of new faces, but there’s a familiar one at the top in Joe Jungmeyer. While the senior’s two wins last year don’t seem that impressive, that tied for the team lead during the Blue Tigers’ 7-33 campaign. He also led the starters in ERA (5.76) and had the team’s only shutout.

“Joe really came on last year,” Dapkus said. “He’s actually picked up a little more velocity and over the years he’s developed a really good offspeed pitch so his fastball looks even faster than it is. You can see his confidence level rising and we’re hoping to get a good year out of him.”

Also back is Nathan Lueckenhoff, who tied for the team lead in appearances and struck out 14 in 26 innings of relief work.

“Nate has shown he really wants to be a starter and I think at some point he’s going to get some starts,” Dapkus said. “He’s also a very dependable kid coming out of the bullpen.”

Another player expected to pitch a fair number of innings is John Bisges.

“John did not get to pitch last year because of an injury,” Dapkus said. “He’s not 100 percent, but we’ve tweaked his arm delivery to where I think we’re going to get a good year out of him.”

With the position players, Lincoln has a pool of about 12 guys to choose from.

“The good thing is there’s a lot of flexibility with those guys being able to move around,” Dapkus said. “... We’ve had a couple kids quit that we didn’t think were going to quit, so that’s hurt our depth a little bit.”

With the Division II season shoehorned into a roughly 12-week period, the Blue Tigers will be facing a familiar issue when it comes to the lineup: Just how long can you afford to give someone at-bats before you decide they can or can’t do the job?

“For the early part of the season, you’re probably going to see the same names a lot,” Dapkus said. “They may be trying different positions, but they’ll be in there because there’s a little bit of a gap between our first group and the second group. We’ve got some younger kids who haven’t shown they’re ready for the consistent nature of the game. They’ll have a good practice and then a bad practice.”

Dapkus added after 18 years as a head coach, he’s still searching for the magic number of at-bats for auditioning batters.

“It’s a very interesting dynamic to see if a guy needs 50 at-bats before you decide to make a change, or is it 15 or 25?” he said. “… It’s a tricky situation because with more at-bats they can come out of a slump, but there’s also been times where the more at-bats, the more pressure a kid puts on himself and can’t get out of it.”

The lineup, at least for the time being, has an outfield of James Earleywine in left, Zach Roberts in center and Logan Smith in right. The infield is Ben Stewart at third, Josh Kennedy at shortstop, Nick Lovell at second and Kaleb Davis at first. Christian Bunch is the catcher, although Kennedy will also see time there, in addition to also pitching some.

Craig Jones is the likely designated hitter, although he will also play some outfield, with the player he replaces out there serving as the DH.

“It’s a lineup that showed in the fall that we may not have all the power in the world, but the guys have done a good job with contact,” Dapkus said. “… We just have got to score more runs than we did last year.”

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