Gusty winds proved to be a factor for Kansas baseball righty Ryan Zeferjahn before he even took the mound against Murray State. But coach Ritch Price walked away impressed with the electric outing his starter ultimately turned in.
Zeferjahn struck out eight batters in the Jayhawks’ series-winning, 4-1 victory over the Racers on Sunday. His fastball sat around 92 to 96 mph during his start, and it clocked in as fast as 98 mph in the noticeably windy conditions at Hoglund Ballpark.
“We needed a great performance by Zeferjahn after not playing very well (Saturday),” said Price, who saw his team fall to Murray State, 10-5, in the second game of the series. “It was one of his better outings. He’s improved his mechanics, he’s improved his command and if he can cut down on the hit batters that he had today, he’ll take another step forward. He can be one of the most dominant guys in the country.”
Zeferjahn’s only blemish may have been the four Murray State batters he hit on the afternoon.
Still, Price is satisfied with how his highly touted righty from Topeka battled the conditions.
“I was really proud of him,” Price said. “It’s cold, and it’s windy, and it’s howling and he’s still throwing that ball up there 94, 95, 96 (mph) the first couple innings. I was just more pleased with how good his mechanics were and that he was in the strike zone.”
Zeferjahn allowed just two hits and an unearned run to the Racers in five innings of work.
“I thought (my start) was really good for my first start of the year,” Zeferjahn said. “Came out here, saw a little wind and just knew that I could attack with my fastball because the ball was hanging up anywhere, and I think it was really good for me to get out to that start in my sophomore year.”
Similar to Friday’s season-opening win, KU did most of its offensive damage in the first when it scored three runs.
After an RBI single from outfielder Devin Foyle, first baseman Luke Bakula drove a two-run single back up the middle to extend the Jayhawks’ lead to three.
“It was nice to see; the same thing happened on Friday, too,” Price said. “It was good to see Bakula come off the bench and get to play against (left-handed pitcher Luke Brown) and get a key two-run single with two outs.”
Price was also pleased to see right fielder Blaine Ray make his first start as a freshman and record a single in his four at-bats.
“I need to work some of those guys in the lineup and give us more options as the season unfolds,” Price said.
The offensive output proved to be enough support for the KU bullpen, which held Murray State scoreless for the final four innings and allowed just one hit.
“Our bullpen’s going to be lights out this year,” said catcher Tanner Gragg, who went 2 for 4 at the plate, including an RBI single in the fourth inning. “Everyone does a good job out of there.”
Reliever Ryan Cyr struck out three batters in his two innings of work, Blake Goldsberry faced just three batters in the eighth and Zack Leban recorded his second save of the season.
“Cyr, Goldsberry, Leban, they all did great,” Gragg said. “Leban’s going to keep closing the door. He’s got electric stuff, and it’s fun to watch.”
KU will continue its 11-game home stand Tuesday against University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Hoglund Ballpark.