Originally created 06/02/06

Jackets look to close book on shortcomings



ATLANTA - For Danny Hall, this season was the time to tinker.

His Georgia Tech baseball team, a group littered with the Major League Baseball draft picks, had fallen short of the College World Series finals three years in a row.

The failures were inexplicable. The Yellow Jackets had hitting: averaging 9.3 runs per game in 2005. They had starting pitching: 27 wins in 2004. They had defense: a school-record .972 field percentage in 2004.

Statistics didn't hold the answer for Hall, though.

History did.

The coach looked back at the last time the Yellow Jackets went to Omaha (2002) and saw that the bullpen, specifically the pitching of Jeff Watchko, keyed the College World Series run.

Watchko went 11-1 that season, often coming on in the sixth or seventh inning and working several innings of relief. Hall and long-time pitching coach Bobby Moranda made building a solid and stable bullpen a priority.

That decision saved the Yellow Jackets' season. The bullpen won more games (21) than the top three starters combined. The relievers posted a 3.45 ERA, while starters Blake Wood, David Duncan and Ryan Turner all had ERAs over 5.00.

And the bullpen is why, Hall said, Georgia Tech posted a 45-16 record and will play host to an NCAA regional this weekend at Russ Chandler Stadium.

The Yellow Jackets play Stetson tonight at 7 p.m. Vanderbilt and Michigan open the regional at 3.

"The bullpen carried us the last third of the year," Hall said. "We thought it was important to have a strong bullpen, and it's worked out very well."

Well enough that Hall has moved one of his relievers back into the starting rotation. Lee Hyde, who went 7-4 as a starter in 2005, went to the bullpen early this season when Hall and Moranda moved Tim Gustafson to a starter's role.

Gustafson developed tendinitis in his arm in late March, though, and missed much of the next two months.

Hall hesitated to move Hyde back to the rotation. He was Watchko-like in his reliever's role, allowing three earned runs in his first seven appearances.

Plus Hyde's success energized the entire bullpen, particularly middle relievers Brad Rulon, Tim Ladd and Jared Hyatt. By the start of last weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, Hall and Moranda felt confident enough in their middle relief to move Hyde back to the rotation.

"When Gustafson went down, it kind of threw the whole pitching staff into a frenzy," Moranda said. "It's taken awhile, but we've done a much better job of stabilizing our staff."

Hyde allowed two earned runs in eight innings in his return to the starter's role last week against Clemson.

Reach Adam Van Brimmer at (404) 589-8424 or adam.vanbrimmer@morris.com.