To know coach Mike McRae and listen to him talk about his pitching staff in such a positive fashion, one knows that he must be pretty satisfied with the talented depth the Griffs have shown entering the 2013 season.
"We are very experienced, very deep and returning a lot of innings from last season," McRae said, "especially a lot of competitive innings."
Canisius brings back more than 85 percent of its innings pitched last season, including 59 of the 60 starts. The Griffs return their top four starting pitchers who will battle it out through the non-conference schedule for the three rotation spots in conference play.
Junior Garrett Cortright took over the No. 1 spot in the rotation at the start of conference play last season. The All-MAAC Second-Team and two-time All-Tournament Team selection went 6-6 with a 3.50 ERA in 16 appearances. The Hamburg, N.Y. native had 76 strikeouts in 97.2 innings. He went at least six innings in 10 of his last 11 starts and allowed three or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 14 starts.
Sophomore Devon Stewart pitched in the No. 2 spot en route to winning MAAC Rookie of the Year honors and earning Freshman All-American accolades. Stewart had some impressive performances - striking out nine batters at Penn State, throwing a seven-inning shutout of Iona where he allowed one batter to reach third base, and going eight innings to earn a victory in the winners bracket game at the MAAC Championship.
Fifth-year senior Billy Martin made 15 starts last season, including a team-best five starts of eight innings or more. Martin went head-to-head with All-American Marcus Stroman at Duke, going eight innings and receiving a no-decision. The Mississauga, Ontario native also went 7.1 innings in the championship round of the MAAC Tournament, allowing just one run. Martin has thrown 230 innings in his career, bringing a wealth of experience and competitiveness to the staff.
The last starting pitcher is someone who was a little overlooked last season in sophomore Rohn Pierce. The Newfane, N.Y. native made 20 appearances, becoming the team's top mid-week starter as well as an option out of the bullpen down the stretch. Pierce had a 2.84 ERA in 10 relief appearances, striking out 16 in 19 innings. He also started the final game of the MAAC Championship, allowing two runs in six innings.
The four pitchers last year combined to throw 356.2 innings in 2012, posting an impressive 2.70 walks per nine innings.
"We have the same four starters as last season and will let it play out. Performance will dictate the weekend rotation," McRae said. "I think we have the best and deepest rotation in the league, one through four. I have confidence in each and every one of them."
What could make the Canisius pitching staff very formidable is its ability to shorten games with the quality of arms out of the pen. That starts with 2012 MAAC Relief Pitcher of the Year Jon Fitzsimmons. As a sophomore, Fitzsimmons set the program record with 11 saves. He had a 1.54 earned run average in a program-record 25 appearances. The London, Ontario native averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings, allowing the opposition to hit .182 on the season.
Looking to take over the left-handed setup role of Nathan Linseman will be Eric Stolzenburg. The East Amherst, N.Y. native will see his role expanded this season from more of the one or two-batter specialist he was last year. Stolzenburg retired the first batter he faced in 13 of his final 15 appearances, including getting out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the MAAC Championship against Manhattan. The 6-foot-4 lefty stranded 19 of 21 inherited baserunners as the opposition went 3-for-25 with runners on base.
The versatility in the pen will become apparent with the quartet of junior Mike Tolsma, sophomore Aaron Casper, redshirt freshman Iannick Remillard and freshman Alex Godzak. Any one of those four pitchers could see a spot start for the Griffs or provide multiple innings out of the pen.
Tolsma comes to Canisius from Erie Community College where he got the win to send his team to the 2011 NJCAA World Series. Casper was a late addition for the team last season after rehabbing an offseason injury as he posted a 2.45 ERA in six appearances out of the pen. Remillard redshirted the 2012 season but has shown a bulldog mentality. Godzak has impressed the coaches with his ability to adapt quickly, especially for a freshman.
Two other arms that could also see time on the mound late in a game are junior Tyler Soucie and senior Jason Rubenstein. McRae sees Soucie, a transfer from Wilfried Laurie, as a late-inning option if Fitzsimmons gets used a lot. Rubenstein also had some impressive outings - going 3.1 scoreless innings at Duke and getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh inning in the MAAC Championship against Manhattan. Rubenstein posted a 1.29 ERA in the sixth inning or later last year.
"I really like our staff. We have lots of options and lots of talent," McRae said. "We will be tested right off the bat on the opening weekend with the five nine-inning games in four days."