Floridian Freshman Warms To Cold

David E. Stein

Captain BARRY WAHLBERG (above) has been limited by a wart on his throwing hand.

Freshman Matt Brunnig more than survived his baptism by frostbite on Friday afternoon.

With temperatures hovering in the low 40s and the winds swirling in off the Charles, the 6’7 pitcher made his much-anticipated Ivy League debut a memorable one. After missing two weekends of action due to injury, Brunnig shut out Yale for six innings and, for the most part, managed to shut thoughts of the cold out of his mind.

“I was kind of concerned, but he wanted to go,” Harvard coach Joe Walsh said. “He felt good. I hope you guys enjoyed him; he’s going to win a lot of games for us over the next four years.”

But it wasn’t easy for the Deland, Fla. native.

“In Florida, you don’t see many games below 65 or so,” Brunnig said on Saturday. “I think I pitched one down there around 55.”

Brunnig threw 119 pitches—a high count for a seven-inning game and Brunnig’s highest all year—and walked three batters.

“My control was off a little,” Brunnig said. “But you throw your fastball, change speeds, try and hit your spots. It’s fun trying to adjust.”

Brunnig faced 30 batters—two more than Yale’s Josh Sowers, who had a much tougher time in the end and surrendered seven runs—but walked the tightrope with an effective fastball, slider and changeup and a splitter that Brunnig unveiled for the first time in game action.

“It just worked when I threw it in the pen, so I tried it in the game,” said Brunnig, who estimated he used the splitter about eight times. “It’s a fun pitch when it works.”

Harvard coach Joe Walsh was grateful that Brunnig was able to battle through the elements to get through the two-run seventh.

“Our middle guys, the closers, we don’t have to look ahead and think of the fourth game [and which relievers to save],” Walsh said. “[Brunnig] gives you those innings that we need. Plus, I like matching him up with other teams’ guys cause he’s a strike thrower.”

Putting On The ’Wicz

Yale heavily recruited freshman Josh Klimkiewicz before the burly Massachusetts native decided to remain local. On Friday, the Bulldogs got to watch what they missed out on fly over the right field wall.

Klimkiewicz’s grand slam in the first game put the Crimson up 5-1 and effectively opened the dam wide for what had been a slumping Harvard team. With the bases loaded after a Bulldog error at third and nobody out, Klimkiewicz got all of Sowers’ first pitch.

Dogged for much of the season by a swollen knee and other lingering effects of an ACL tear that sidelined him last year while still in high school, Klimkiewicz finally broke through, hitting 7-for-11 with six RBI in three games.

According to Walsh, Klimkiewicz had been limited by the knee, which he learned had swollen up after last week’s Princeton series. But for Klimkiewicz, there was a mental component to a slump that found him hitting around .265 for most of the season.

“I got into a bad habit back in the fall when it was still sore, keeping my weight way back and pushing off,” Klimkiewicz said. “I wasn’t getting any twist on it because I was taking my whole body out of the swing. I developed some muscle memory into that, so I watched myself on video to figure out what I was doing wrong.”

Klimkiewicz sat out the fourth game as a precaution and was replaced by freshman Morgan Brown, who had two hits.

“We didn’t want him out there too much with the swelling in his knee,” Walsh said. “Morgan did a nice job.”

Dukes and Hazards

Among the more serious concerns for the Crimson right now is the health of junior Trey Hendricks, who limped noticeably through all four games this weekend and left O’Donnell Field on the back of a cart on Saturday.

According to Walsh, Hendricks has been battling patella tendonitis for a while, but he had never been this badly hobbled.

“He’s been sitting. He’s been riding the bike and not running and getting through it,” Walsh said. “He’s usually okay in a day or two, but we might have to sit him for a little while. Hopefully that’s all that is, patella tendinitis.”

Walsh speculated that Hendricks was hurt by having to pitch game two and then take the field again on Saturday instead of having several days off to recover after his start. But Hendricks seemed compromised on the basepaths from as early as the first game on Friday afternoon, when he scored a run in the fourth inning.

Any serious injury to Hendricks would be a brutal blow for the Crimson. He leads the team in batting average (.381), home runs (5), RBI (29) and slugging (.610) and has also been one of the team’s most consistent pitchers. Walsh said Hendricks will be evaluated this week.

After Hendricks left the last game in the fifth, freshman Mike Dukovich stepped in at first. Dukovich provided some of the most memorable moments of the blowout with a leadoff double deep to center in the seventh and an eye-opening diving catch on a Dave Fortenbaugh pop up deep in foul territory in the ninth.

“I always played first base when I was younger,” Dukovich said. “I knew I could play defensively out there.”

Brought to Cambridge primarily as a pitcher, Dukovich felt comfortable doing emergency duty for a team that, on paper, lacks infield depth. Senior Brian Lentz and sophomore Schuyler Mann—both catchers—have also played first this season, but more out of necessity than anything else.

“Being a bench player, whatever chances you get, you gotta make the most of them,” Dukovich said. But as encouraging as this outing was for Dukovich, the team can only hope that a serious injury to Hendricks doesn’t press the rookie into extended service at first for too long.

—Staff writer Martin S. Bell can be reached at msbell@fas.harvard.edu.