The Baseball Guy: Freshman Pitcher Great in Yet Another Bad Weekend

Brandon Liebhaber (@B_Liebhaber) explains how freshman pitcher Brandon Magallones has been a bright spot in what has been a rough start to the Big Ten season for Northwestern baseball.

Put lightly, Northwestern’s baseball team is not doing very well. Last Tuesday, they lost to NAIA St. Xavier 9-3 at home. Then the Wildcats were swept by Minnesota, dropping them to 3-9 and last place in the Big Ten. The ‘Cats have now lost seven in a row. As I wrote about in my last column, the offense continued its lackluster play, scoring just five combined runs in those four losses. The good news is that Northwestern got another fabulous start from freshman Brandon Magallones on Saturday. Magallones continues to be one of the few bright spots on a 10-22 team.

Brandon Magallones, aside from having an awesome first name, has solidified his spot as the number two starter in the weekend rotation. He struggled in the early going, giving up 10 earned runs in his first 15 collegiate innings. But in his last five starts—four of which have come in conference play—he’s been NU’s best pitcher.

The freshman from Manhattan, Illinois struck out 9 in eight innings of work against Long Island on March 18 and hasn’t looked back since. Magallones has a league leading 28 strikeouts in Big Ten play. His 2.30 ERA over that span is good for ninth and his .222 batting average against is eleventh. His 19 combined strikeouts against Iowa and Nebraska at the end of March earned him Big Ten co-Pitcher and co-Freshman of the week honors.

Magallones also became the first ‘Cat to start off 5-0 since 1988, but his tough luck loss on Saturday shows why wins and losses don’t mean a whole lot for pitchers. He struck out 7 and walked only one in a career high 8.1 innings of work. In the ninth with Northwestern up 1-0, he gave up three singles that allowed Minnesota to tie the game. With runners on the corners and one man out, manager Paul Stevens pulled Magallones for closer Kyle Ruchim. Ruchim only faced one batter, who singled in the winning run (a run that would be charged to Magallones). Even while taking the loss, Magallones went at least seven innings and struck out seven for the fourth time in five starts (with the one exception coming against a great Purdue offense).

Despite his stellar play, Magallones definitely has room to improve. He has hit more batters (7) than any Wildcat pitcher. The 14 extra-base hits he has given up—including three home runs—are also a team high. Free base runners and big hits are mistakes that can easily catch up with a pitcher. The good news is that his control has been great thus far—just 17 walks compared to 51 strikeouts. Assuming the freshman continues to improve, he will be very good in years to come.

The Wildcats first take on Milwaukee in a nonconference game on Tuesday before heading to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in another conference series. Magallones will likely get the ball in game two on Saturday. If the Wildcats can generate any offense behind him, they’ll break this stretch of Big Ten losses.

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