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Notre Dame Baseball

Brannigan dynamic in first career start, Notre Dame bounces back

April 19, 2022
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Jack Brannigan has appeared in 90 games for Notre Dame, but he experienced a first Tuesday evening at Frank Eck Stadium.

With the Fighting Irish having been swept in an Atlantic Coast Conference road series for the second time this season, at the hands last weekend of Duke, coach Link Jarrett turned to the flame-throwing Brannigan for a first-ever time to debut as Notre Dame’s starting pitcher.

All Brannigan did was work three scoreless frames, allowing just one hit and striking out four, to improve to 1-0 in his career as a starting pitcher – and even his slate at 2-2 on the season.

The man Jarrett termed college baseball’s best defensive third baseman merely flirted with triple-digits on the radar gun and overpowered visiting Valparaiso in Notre Dame’s 5-1 win.

“Clearly he’s a very talented individual in all phases of the game,” Jarrett said of Brannigan. “Clearly he needs to refine what he’s doing on the mound, and clearly we were trying to use him at the back-end of games because from third base you really create some problems if we bring him in in the third or fourth inning of the game, like we do some other guys.

“How do you groom him in competitive situations to hone his pitching skills? We didn’t have a chance to use him (at Duke), not coming from third base. We wanted to let him warm up like a starting pitcher would warm up, with all the freedom in the world to run around in the outfield and do those sort of things that you can’t do as a reliever. There’s games he’s on second base with two outs and we’re trying to get him ready to pitch.”

Brannigan needed just 39 pitches to get through his three innings, also showing remarkable skill in fielding off the mound when he erased a runner at third on a sacrifice-bunt and then initiated a double play on a sharply hit ball back to the mound.

Jarrett emphasized a need to continue to expand Brannigan’s contributions – even as Brannigan has slumped of late at the plate.  

“Are we going to use him in that role down the road? I don’t know,” Jarrett said, “but clearly when you have a guy that can throw the ball 100mph, we have to get him in the equation a little bit more.

“We thought this was a good experience for him to just be a pitcher. I said you’re not taking batting practice, we’re pitching. He responded fairly well. He’s so talented, we’ve got to get a little bit more production there.”

At the plate, the Fighting Irish (22-8) got two-hit games from Ryan Cole and Carter Putz while Jack Zyska smacked a two-run double that nearly was a three-run blast to stake Notre Dame to a 3-0, first-inning lead. Jack Penney added a towering two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh.

Freshman Roman Kimball had one of his most effective outings of the season; he worked four innings of one-hit, one-run ball, fanned five and threw just 58 pitches.

“We groomed him for this, and again, it’s (been) good outing, not so good, good outing,” Jarrett said. “You want those young guys to eventually settle in and give you a consistent outing like he got today. Then you can start to rely on them for different, later roles and it opens up your playbook a little bit towards the end of some of these games where you’re not counting the same guy or two to try to do it.”

Jarrett and the Irish coaching staff had focused on eliminating the extra steps that Kimball often takes around the mound, either between pitches or outs.

Kimball was more efficient in this outing, yielding only Brady Renfro’s solo blast that just clipped inside the right-field pole.

“Very happy with his progress,” Jarrett said. “His secondary pitches, when they’re more in the fastball lane, when he can get that in play, the fastball is even better. He likes to be out there, he’s athletic, he looks the part, it comes out of his hand. There’s an energy and something to the moxie he has when he’s out there.

“He throws an 85mph slider that when you dig into the metrics on it, it’s what people are hunting to draft and find. It doesn’t rise, but it doesn’t do what the tendency of the pitch is to do. It kind of bores on the lefties and on the righties, it almost climbs above the bat and then he has a curve ball.”

MCLINSKEY IN DOUBT

Ryan McLinskey, the transfer-newcomer who’s been among the Irish’s more reliable and versatile arms, saw his outing at Duke last weekend end early with elbow discomfort.

Jarrett said the Irish were awaiting final MRI results and other consultations on McLinskey Tuesday evening, but he didn’t invite optimism in McLinskey’s status moving forward.

“They’re trying to figure out his arm. He had discomfort Saturday, so they’re trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on,” Jarrett said. “Any time you deal with that (in the elbow), it’s a concern. The MRI and then (ND orthopedist Dr. Brian) Ratigan and then specialists have to dive in and see what it is.

“We’ll get that tonight. That’s a tough, competitive kid. At the least.”

 
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