A good bullpen or relief pitcher is a lot like a good offensive lineman in football. When they do their job, they hold their opponent at bay. It's technically what they're supposed to do, which means the game sails right along. Nobody really notices or pays much attention to what they're doing.
When they fail, however, it's public consumption. It's the classic case of success having a thousand fathers but failure being an orphan.
In college baseball, relief pitching can be a quixotic conundrum. So few players go to college with the intention of being a lockdown closer. Almost all of them are long-term starters in high school, after all, used to the grind of throwing multiple innings. Transitioning to the bullpen can be development to bring a guy in as a starter or to work multiple innings.
Take BC's season this year. Before BC stretched him out and moved him to the rotation, Justin Dunn was considered by many as one of the best closers in the ACC. In three of his first six outings, he pitched more than one inning, including 3.1 innings against NC State.
But the problem with a lights-out reliever in college is actually getting to him. For a team like BC, having Dunn in the bullpen was one thing, but it's not like he could pitch every game. He needed to be set up in the right position to succeed, which necessitated the move to the rotation over the last four appearances.
Moving Dunn to the rotation created a vacuum in the bullpen. For the Eagles, that meant moving Jesse Adams back there when he transitioned out of the starting rotation, but it also meant finding someone who was used to entering games in jams and pitching out of them.
Enter Bobby Skogsbergh.
Skogsbergh is one of those names that fits the prototype of a relief pitcher. He's capable of throwing three or more innings, and he's routinely asked to throw two innings against opponents. But he's also the kind of guy who can let it fly for one inning of work. Rather than bridge to a closer, he's provided BC with the arm that's done yeoman's work in shutting down opponents after the starter's day is done.
The proof is in the statistics. A short-inning pitcher is one bad outing away from having his ERA blown up. Once it's up, it takes inning after inning of work to bring it back down. At the beginning of the year, Skogsbergh gave up two runs in 1.2 innings against North Dakota State. He absorbed the loss and watched his ERA balloon up to 4.91.
Skogsbergh didn't allow another run, earned or otherwise, in the next four outings.The next run he gave up came against Pittsburgh - after he'd thrown 6.2 innings of scoreless baseball, including 3.1 against Clemson. It took that long to lower his ERA back under 2.00, and it's pretty much stayed there ever since with the exception of giving up two runs to Northeastern in a blowout win in the Beanpot Championship.
"We're just so used to him delivering," said head coach Mike Gambino of his right-handed reliever. "He knows how to execute his pitches in key situations, and the boys have so much confidence in playing behind him. It's why we love giving him the ball in big situations."
Rated the 22nd right-handed pitching prospect out of Illinois in the recruiting class of 2013, Skogsbergh is one of those guys capable of grinding. During his freshman year in 2014, he appeared in 19 games, going 4-0 in 24.1 innings thrown. He wasn't overpowering, walking 12 to 11 strikeouts, but he was cagey enough to get out of innings without too much damage, evidenced by his 2.22 ERA. He was hittable at the time because he hadn't physically developed.
After missing the majority of last year with an injury, which earned him a medical redshirt, he's bounced back in a big way in his third season. In 17 games, he's struck out 21, walking only eight. He's substantially less hittable, holding opposing batters to below a .225 average. On Tuesday, facing the Rhode Island Rams, he struck out the side in the ninth, a season high for K's in a game, recording his second save of the year.
"Adrenaline definitely helps," said Skogsbergh earlier this season about his bullpen experience. "Coach Foster always has a great gameplan for me, in terms of recovery and post-throwing, and we see how it feels the next day to see when I can bounce back (and pitch again)."