The Leadoff: Pitching Staff

Feb. 14, 2014

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By Bryan Levine

Feb. 14 - Pitching

After breaking down each offensive position of the 2014 Knights, The Leadoff will take a look at what the UCF pitching staff will look like this season.

Head coach Terry Rooney announced at Media Day on Tuesday that Eric Skoglund will be his Opening Knight starter, while Spencer Davis and Robby Howell are scheduled to wrap up the weekend.

Skoglund is entering his third year at UCF, and Knights fans are very familiar with him as he's made 31 appearances and 18 starts in career thus far. According to Rooney, Skoglund has made great strides since the end of last season, and has earned Rooney's confidence to become the go-to-guy in 2014.

"He's earned it," Rooney said. "He's really come into his own since the middle of the fall. His command is better, and he's put on about 15 pounds. He looks better, meaning he's able to repeat his delivery. I think this is the type of year that can be a breakout season for Eric Skoglund."

Skoglund has big shoes to fill as he'll be stepping up and taking the place of last year's ace, Ben Lively. Lively, a fourth-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds, compiled a 2.04 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 106 innings pitched in 2013.

"We'll have to replace him somehow, and that'll be a difficult thing to do," Rooney said of Lively. "He matched up with the best pitchers in the country pretty much every Friday night because he was one of them."

Skoglund will be joined by Davis, a junior who should provide a veteran presence in the rotation. Davis is making the jump from the bullpen following a strong season that saw him lead the team in saves as the closer. In order for him to have a successful year as a starter, Rooney says Davis will need to consistently keep the ball down in the zone.

Rounding out the opening weekend rotation is Robby Howell, a freshman from Fort White. Howell stands to become just the second freshman in Rooney's six-year tenure to make a start on the opening weekend, and the first since D.J. Hicks in 2009. It seems as if Rooney hasn't been this high on a freshman pitcher since 2012, when he had great confidence in Skoglund who rewarded that faith with a performance that earned him Freshman All-American honors.

Moving to the bullpen, fans will be seeing a familiar face at the end of games -- sophomore Zac Favre.

Favre, a Freshman All-American in 2013, is coming off a pretty special year. His final stats aren't quite indicative of how dominant he was for the majority of the season, but Favre still ended the year with a 3.28 ERA and 55 strikeouts while holding opposing hitters to a .186 batting average in 32 appearances.

"One thing I feel really good about is the back end of our bullpen. Number one is Zac Favre," Rooney said. "He was a Freshman All-American last year, so we feel good about him. Beyond Favre, I feel like Parker Thomas and Joe Marotta give us a really good lefty-righty combination in the last three innings as well."

Junior-college transfers Thomas and Marotta are both poised to make immediate impacts on the pitching staff out of the pen.

While we only covered six of the 17 pitchers on the roster, one of the great things about the pitching staff this year is its depth. There are plenty of pitchers who will make large contributions to this team in 2014.

UCF baseball insider Bryan Levine is proud to bring you his all-new blog, The Leadoff. This blog is dedicated to giving Knights fans an inside look at the UCF baseball program. Levine, who recently began his second season working with UCF baseball audio broadcasts, will offer his unique perspectives on "Orlando's Baseball Team" with multiple updates throughout each week of the season.