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SJU baseball heads into 2002 without 3 key pitchers

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The most important element to a successful baseball team is solid starting pitching. Can a team find three or four guys who will keep his team in the ballgame to have a chance to win? That is the question on the minds of all coaches every off-season.

At last season’s conclusion, St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer must have thought he would have the key ingredient of effective starting pitching to add to the 2002 season mix. But alas, nothing in baseball is guaranteed and nobody knows that more than Blankmeyer.

As St. John’s (31-22, 13-13 in 2001) prepares to open the Big East conference season this Saturday against Villanova at The Ballpark, the Red Storm will be doing so without its top three starting pitchers.

Senior Marc Goldberg (biceps tendon reattachment) and sophomore Joe Reid (Tommy John surgery) injured themselves playing this past summer and are done for the year. And just when St. John’s thought junior Geno Orsogna would become the new ace of the staff, he is lost for the season also with Tommy John surgery. So what does St. John’s do now?

How about letting your best player on the field and at the plate become your best pitcher on the mound?

That’s exactly what will be asked of senior Charlie Bilezikjian. The former 10th round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves and preseason All-Big East will be asked to lead St. John's to a Big East Tournament berth in more ways than one.

“We’re putting a lot of pressure on Charlie [right now],” Blankmeyer said. “We’re riding him a bit.”

Pitching is not a foreign concept for the Staten Island native. Last season Bilezikjian was 3-3 while appearing in 10 games for St. John’s. Though he did start three of those games, he was mostly used in relief and picked up a save in 20 innings pitched. Bilezikjian finds his role as a starter more comfortable.

“I don’t have to rush out to the bullpen in between innings now to get loose,” he said. “I think it’s easier for me because I know when I’m going to pitch.”

Bilezikjian is not the only arm that Blankmeyer will rely on heavily this season. Junior Tom Klemm (4-5, 4.52 in 2001) and freshman Jim Wladyka will also factor in to the St. John’s starting pitching solution this season.

Wladyka’s last outing against Monmouth this past Sunday was exactly what Blankmeyer wants to see during the conference season. Although he was on the losing end of a 2-0 game, Wladyka pitched seven innings, giving up two runs on four hits in the first game of the doubleheader.

“I’m not asking him to do anything he’s not capable of doing,” Blankmeyer said of Wladyka.

Without Chris Fallon (Kansas City Royals) and his 16 home runs at first base, the Red Storm has struggled to put together runs so far this season (5-8). Without a big bat in the lineup, St. John’s will have to resort to small ball in a stadium where runs are hard to come by.

“This is a tough field to play on,” Blankmeyer said of The Ballpark at St. John’s. “We have to understand that we have to manufacture runs. You just can’t sit back and let it rip.”

Besides Bilezikjian (.352, 16 2B, 36 RBI in 2001), Blankmeyer hopes that senior third baseman Jason Kane can duplicate his .339 batting average and .475 slugging percentage from a year ago.

Reach Contributing Writer William Hernandez by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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