Kansas baseball coach Ritch Price was hoping for a strong performance from a multitude of pitchers in his bullpen if the Jayhawks were going to finally stop the bleeding.
But KU, which entered Tuesday’s contest against in-state rival Wichita State on a seven-game losing streak, wasn’t able to end the skid. The Jayhawks’ bullpen allowed 15 hits and 13 runs in a 14-5 loss to the Shockers at Hoglund Ballpark.
“It was a good college baseball game until they got deep into our bullpen,” Price said. “And then they pretty much beat us up.”
Freshman Conner VanCleave, who started the game but usually works in relief, gave up just two hits and one run in three innings. The outing was VanCleave’s third start of the season.
“We needed our starter to give us three good innings,” Price said. “I was really pleased with the performance of Conner VanCleave. That’s a big step forward for the freshman.”
KU built an early lead for VanCleave in the second. First baseman Owen Taylor lifted a sac fly to left, which allowed left fielder Devin Foyle to score the first run of the game.
However, the Shockers (27-12) quickly answered back in the third. Wichita State’s Travis Young blasted an RBI double that bounced off the wall in right-center field.
The Jayhawks (19-21) retook the lead in their bottom half of the third after designated hitter Brett Vosik drilled a two-out, RBI single to right.
But VanCleave proved to be the only bright spot on KU’s pitching staff against Wichita State. The arms that followed VanCleave out of the bullpen struggled.
In the fifth, Wichita State left fielder Luke Ritter blasted a two-run home run off freshman Jonah Ulane to wipe out KU’s lead. The homer — which came on a 2-1 fastball — also knocked Ulane out of the game with two outs in the inning.
Price said he thought Ulane had a promising start in relief on the night — he retired four of the first five batters he saw — but added that he’ll need to focus on throwing his fastball lower in the zone.
“It’s a learning experience for (Ulane),” Price said. “He left that fastball right out over the middle of the plate, and when you’re throwing 87 (mph), if you elevate the ball in the middle of the plate, you’re going to get hurt.”
Tyler Davis, who relieved Ulane, struggled in the sixth. He allowed three hits and four runs in the frame, including two doubles.
Price said he was hoping Davis could log multiple innings for KU, but fatigue may have played a factor in his outing. Davis appeared twice in the series against Oklahoma State this past weekend.
“He pitched Friday, he pitched Sunday and we brought him in again today, and that’s asking a lot of your bullpen,” Price said. “He’s the right guy to pitch against them because he has such a good curveball. But today, he got behind in the count … and they were on time with his pitches.”
Price also used relievers Daniel Hegarty, Gabriel Sotomayor and Casey Douglas, who have seen limited action this season.
“Once we got behind, we weren’t going to use our experienced guys,” Price said. “Those guys obviously pitched Friday and Sunday (against Oklahoma State).”
KU will next play host to Saint Mary (Kan.) at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The Jayhawks will be aiming to end what is now an eight-game losing streak.
“We’ve got to keep grinding to get back in this thing,” Price said.
Wichita State 001 024 160 — 14 17 0
Kansas 011 000 030 — 5 12 1
W—Preston Snavely (3-1). L—Ulane (0-2).
2B—Young (2), WSU; Noah Croft, WSU; Trey Vickers, WSU; Ritter, WSU; Benjamin Sems (2), KU; Foyle, KU. HR—Ritter, WSU.
KU highlights—VanCleave, 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K; Rudy Karre, 2 for 5; Vosik, 1 for 3, run, walk, RBI; Brendt Citta, 2 for 3, run, walk; Taylor, 2 for 3, 3 RBI; Benjamin Sems, 3 for 4, run, RBI.