(Photo via USD website, seen here)
As the college baseball season is in the middle of conference play, the University of San Diego has fallen out of the national rankings. After early season victories over Michigan, Arkansas, and Arizona, the Torreros dropped four out of five series in March. Entering Sunday’s contest against St. Mary’s, USD had a 4-3 record in April. With a 17-18 record and a 7-7 conference record, the Torreros will look to pick up series wins over the next month.
The last time we visited Nick Sprengel, we noted his ability to miss bats and rack up strikeouts. Control issues also arose during his start against Arkansas in February. Has Sprengel improved his control and 1.34 WHIP from 2017 to improve his draft stock?
April 8 start
Unfortunately, the southpaw has had a rough stretch since February.
The left-hander continues to strike hitters out (35 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings pitched). Just like the Arkansas game, his fastball and breaking ball are leading to plenty of strikeouts.
Control continues to be an issue for Sprengel. In an April 8 start versus Loyola Marymount, Sprengel opened the start with a hit-by-pitch and a walk. Much like the Arkansas start, where he wiggled out of trouble with strikeouts, he struck out Billy Wilson by changing the hitter’s eye level with beautiful sequencing. He worked a fastball down for a strike and then a fastball up and away for a swinging strikeout of left-handed Wilson.
With an 0-2 count and two outs to Jamey Smart, Sprengel missed with a fastball and two more pitches outside to run the count full. Like previous starts this season, running too many counts full have led to shortened outings. The free base runners cost Sprengel, as Smart lined a pitch to the outfield to drive in the first run. A mound visit didn’t help with the next pitch, as Sprengel missed outside for ball one. While a fastball on the outside corner evened the count at 1-1, he left a ball up that Niko Pacheco fouled off to right field. After missing outside (2-2) with a pitch, he missed outside again for a 3-2 count, which was the third full count of the first inning. Pacheco took a ground ball the other way between the first baseman and the second baseman to drive in the second run for Loyola Marymount.
Through five hitters, Sprengel had thrown 24 pitches, and thirteen of the pitches were balls. An inside strike got him ahead in the count (0-1) against Shearer. Luckily, a chopper to second base resulted in a 4-6 putout and another out due to baserunner interference.
After the Torreros scored two runs in the bottom of the first, Sprengel allowed one hit, one walk, and no runs in the top of the second.
In the third inning, Sprengel brought out the dominant-side again. While he fell behind 3-0 to Billy Wilson, missing up and in, he came back with a show-me fastball (3-1). A nice curveball got Wilson swinging, and the southpaw put Wilson away with a high fastball. Sprengel became more efficient with his next two hitters. He induced a popup from Smart for the second out, and he jumped out to an 0-2 count to Pacheco with a well-placed outside fastball. Changing speeds got Pacheco out in front of strike three to end the top of the third inning.
Once his offense scored five more runs in the bottom of the third (7-2 USD), Sprengel maintained his efficiency in the fourth inning. While he gave up a single to open the inning, a great play by second baseman, led to a double play on a line drive. Inducing a chopper to the shortstop got the left-hander out of the inning in five pitches.
The top of the fifth inning wasn’t as kind to Nick Sprengel. Much like his troubled innings, the inning began with a leadoff walk. He continued to miss outside off the plate with his pitches. After a passed ball, the southpaw induced a high chopper to first base for the first out of the fifth. With his second win of the season within view, Sprengel couldn’t complete the fifth inning. With an 0-2 count on Billy Wilson, he missed low with three straight pitches (3-2). Leaving a pitch over the plate at the belt resulted in an RBI-double off the wall for Wilson. On the first pitch to Jamey Smart, the first baseman turned on a pitch at the belt to pull a pitch over the right-field wall.
The two hard-hit balls would end his outing against Loyola Marymount, as he completed 4 2/3 innings. He struck out five and gave up five earned runs on six hits and three walks. While his strikeouts were still present, too many high-pitch counts and a few walks led to another short outing for the top 100 draft prospect.
April 15 outing
In the first inning, Sprengel issued a leadoff to Joey Fiske, who came around to score on Kevin Milam’s three-run homer. Around the three runs, Sprengel added three strikeouts to his line. While the walks stopped in the second inning, a leadoff home run started the top of the second. The southpaw struck out three more hitters, but not before St. Mary’s scored another run (5-0 St. Mary’s) on three-consecutive singles.
The St. Mary’s hitters peppered four singles in the third inning, which added another run (6-0) to Sprengel’s tally. The southpaw left the game after three 1/3 innings pitched. While it was encouraging to see six strikeouts to one walk, giving up six earned runs on ten hits didn’t help his cause.
The left-hander continues to pile up strikeouts, but conference play has been unkind to Sprengel. After his April 15 start versus St .Mary’s, he has allowed 24 earned runs, 27 hits, and 12 walks in 12 1/3 innings pitched in conference play.
Entering the start vs. St. Mary’s, Sprengel had a 1-1 record with an 8.14 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP. During the last month of the season, monitor Nick Sprengel’s ability to limit his walks and work longer into games. If he can use his fastball and breaking ball for early strikes, it could help limit labor-intensive innings that have hurting his chances for success in 2018.