Sophomore pitching sensation Nick Sprengel
For many pitchers, the onset of a fresh season is a time that serves as a feeling out process.
After the long months of the offseason, pitchers must regain the feel for their pitches, a task that is much easier said than done. Because of the unpredictable nature of the season’s first few games, often times pitchers will struggle in their initial outings as they throw the proverbial spaghetti against the wall, hoping to find what will stick.
For University of San Diego sophomore Nick Sprengel, the early part of the 2017 season has wielded nothing but positive results. Sprengel was given the ball for the Toreros’ opening game against the No. 7 Vanderbilt Commodores on Feb. 16.
Facing a top 10 team proved to be a challenge that Sprengel was more than capable of handling. In his first start of the year, the 6’1” left-hander threw five efficient innings, allowing five hits and two runs while striking out nine Commodores en route to his first victory of 2017.
Junior catcher Riley Adams also clubbed his first home run of the season in this game, and sophomore shortstop Jeff Houghtby contributed an RBI triple to USD’s 3-2 win.
Sprengel revealed that his success against top flight competition was partly a result of his business-like approach.
“We prepared to face [Vanderbilt] like any other team we will face this year,” Sprengel said. “Every team plays on the same dimensions, so, as a pitcher, you just need to focus on attacking every pitch and playing to your strengths.”
The sterling start to the season earned Sprengel the West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Week award. This prestigious honor was unbeknownst to Sprengel until he received a text from his father passing along the good news.
“My dad texted me and told me I was named WCC Pitcher of the Week,” Sprengel said. “I was surprised and thought it was cool to be recognized and honored.”
Sprengel followed up his debut with another winning effort on Feb. 24 against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
In front of a Friday night crowd of more than 900 people, Sprengel limited Notre Dame to just one run on two hits over five innings of work. Backed by six runs of support, Sprengel improved his record to 2-0 as the Toreros cruised to a 6-2 triumph over the visiting Fighting Irish.
While it is still incredibly early in the collegiate baseball season, and Sprengel’s two starts represent an admittedly small sample size, the young lefty looks primed to be the anchor of the Toreros pitching rotation.
He is cognizant of the fact that he’s riding a personal hot streak and understands the effort that is needed to make it last for the whole spring.
“I think the main thing is to keep grinding between every start,” Sprengel said. “No matter how good or rough an outing is, […] my preparation and the work I’ve put in leading up to game one allowed for my success.”
One potential downfall that could hinder Sprengel’s success is his inability to consistently find the strike zone. Both of the southpaw’s two performances thus far have been cut short due in part to an alarming amount of walks.
In the game against Vanderbilt, Sprengel allowed three walks and uncorked two wild pitches. This inaccuracy pushed his pitch count to 98 pitches through just five innings.
Of those 98 pitches, 55 (56 percent) of them found the strike zone, a number that Sprengel and the USD coaching staff should hope to see improved upon as the season progresses.
Wildness reared its ugly head for a second time in the victory against Notre Dame. Sprengel issued five free passes to the Fighting Irish, again elevating his pitch count and knocking him out in the fifth inning.
Of course, Sprengel is still enjoying an excellent beginning to his sophomore campaign despite the walk issues. In his first two starts, Sprengel has tossed 10 innings, striking out 15 batters and letting up just three earned runs, good for a 2.70 ERA.
With a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a strong arsenal of off-speed pitches, the Toreros’ ace is starting to garner attention from Major League Baseball front office men.
San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller was on hand at Fowler Park on Feb. 16 to watch Sprengel stifle the Vanderbilt offense.
Moving forward, Sprengel has his sights set high for himself and USD’s entire roster.
“We have, as a team, been working hard,” Sprengel said. “Now that the season is here, it’s time to show off our talent.”
For students looking to get a glimpse of this talent firsthand, the Toreros next home game will take place on March 14 against the crosstown rival San Diego State University Aztecs. In the meantime, the team will take a trip to Louisiana for five games against the Tulane Green Wave and LSU Tigers.
Written by Matthew Roberson, Sports Editor