Pitcher Andrew Ledbetter catching the ball in the game against Iona on March 30. Ledbetter currently has the second-best ERA out of the bullpen. RAYMOND WILSON/THE STATESMAN

What an ugly one that was.

The Stony Brook baseball team won two out of three games against Hartford, but much less convincingly than they did at Maine. The pitching was bad in just about every aspect. Any and all early-season concerns with the hitters are gone, and have been gone for a little while now. Yet, the question remains: who can head coach Matt Senk turn to?

Opponents are hitting .286 against Stony Brook, and the staff has a combined 6.15 ERA. Granted, those stats are skewed by bad performances against a ranked Old Dominion team and South Florida, who made an NCAA Super Regional last year. 

Even worse, there hasn’t been any legitimate progression. The pitchers will have great days and follow them up with awful ones. It makes it hard to know what to expect on a day-to-day basis.

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However, this past weekend was a killer. Starters Ben Fero and Brandon Lashley had been pretty much solidified as the number one and two starters, respectively. Fero had a bad start against Maine but had been rock-solid all season long. Then he blew up again, as Hartford’s bats knocked him out in the third inning of Friday’s game. His ERA went from 3.80 to 5.13 after his last start. Now after back-to-back rough outings, he has to prove his effectiveness again. 

The same goes for Lashley, who was chased from the game after 3.2 innings. The alarming thing isn’t just that the Seawolves pitchers struggled so mightily, but that they struggled against a Hartford team that was hitting just .220 coming into the series. Now after these struggles, the Seawolves have questions again — questions they can’t afford to have for much longer.

The number three starter remains a question. We have seen it go to Shane Helmstadt, Colton Book, Josh O’Neill, Kyle Johnson and most recently Quinlan Montgomery. Montgomery earned a second start after tossing five strong innings at Maine. Montgomery struggled mightily with his control against Hartford and missed an opportunity to assure his place in the rotation. 

Luckily, O’Neill has caught fire. He allowed one earned run in his 12 innings and has pounded the strike zone more. After his Wednesday gem against Iona, he credited mental and physical adjustments that have helped him improve his command.

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“I’m just keeping a clear mindset. Early on, I had some struggles because I think I was trying to do too much … In the stretch, I was going a little slow to the plate, so we sped everything up,” O’Neill said in an interview with The Statesman.

Maybe O’Neill will get another shot at the regular starting rotation.

The bullpen has been Brendan Pattermann or bust. Obviously, Johnson is a lethal weapon for the team out of the bullpen, but he just has not gotten right this year. He had another rough outing Friday night against Hartford, but Stony Brook is going to need to get him right if they want to be great. 

Johnson was Stony Brook’s best reliever a year ago, so it’s very possible that he breaks out any day now. Ditto to Devin Sharkey, although his four wild pitches in just 2.1 innings against Hartford was alarming. Having said that, Sharkey had a better week, allowing only one earned run in 5.1 innings. If Sharkey continues on this track, and Johnson figures it out, this Seawolves bullpen will have a lethal three-headed monster in the back end.

Despite all of this negativity, the Seawolves have seen a handful of positives from Fero, Lashley, Montgomery and O’Neill this year, even if they have been inconsistent. Expect three of those guys to fill the rotation and one of them to fill an important role in the bullpen. Johnson and Sharkey have had some good moments this year, and will definitely continue to get more opportunities. 

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There are other relievers who have an opportunity to turn this thing around, as well. The hard-throwing Andrew Ledbetter has turned in back-to-back scoreless outings, and currently boasts the second-best ERA out of the bullpen and a .171 batting average against. Jack Carr has pitched a scoreless outing in four of his five appearances, but allowed seven runs in three innings against Old Dominion to muck up his ERA. Maybe he will get another chance. There is also the left-handed freshman Book, who has had a couple of really solid outings in relief.

In other words, Stony Brook had a lot of pitching questions to answer before this weekend, and have even more to answer now after this weekend. All the team can hope for is that its main guys bounce back and its up-and-comers continue to trend upwards.

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