By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Cody Winiarski retired VCU batters in order in the first inning Tuesday night. He did the same in the second.
Then came the deluge, spoiling what might have been a memorable outing for the 6-4, 200-pound right-hander. Lightning flashed, thunder boomed and rain pelted Davenport Field, forcing the suspension of the top-ranked Cavaliers’ baseball game against the Rams.
“It’s definitely tough, because you gotta come into the locker room and stay mentally locked-in, in case it does blow over,” Winiarski said later.
The teams had no such luck. Ninety-five minutes after play was halted, another thunderstorm hit the ball park, and the game was cancelled. That made it difficult for Virginia coach Brian O’Connor to assess Winiarski’s latest start.
“It’s obviously tough, when you only play an inning and a half, to really evaluate much, other than a couple of things,” O’Connor said. “Obviously, starting the game is important, and I thought Cody threw the ball well for two innings. And so he did the job at the beginning of the game.”
Winiarski, a senior from Racine, Wis., spent two years at Madison Area Technical College before transferring to UVa. He was the Wahoos’ Sunday starter in 2010 and continued in that role until about two weeks ago, when O’Connor moved junior right-hander Will Roberts into that slot.
In his April 10 start at Georgia Tech — a game UVa would lose — Winiarski lasted only three innings. So O’Connor started him three nights later against Coastal Carolina.
Winiarski pitched four strong innings in that game. He then went seven innings and got the victory April 19 in Virginia’s 12-0 win at Radford.
“I feel like Cody Winiarski has handled [the move] as I thought that he would,” O’Connor said. “A big reason why we’re 40-4 right now is because we’ve got a group of really unselfish players that put the team in front of their own personal desires.
“Cody’s just another one of those guys that feels that way. And so when I met with Cody and told him what I was going to do, he said, ‘Coach, I understand. If you feel that’s what’s best for the team, you need to do it.’ And he’s pitched the way that he responded to our conversation. He pitched a nice shutout down at Radford, and I thought he started off tonight as well as you possibly can.”
Winiarski is 5-2 this season, with a 3.27 earned-run average. Roberts is 8-0, with a 1.61 ERA.
“I can’t complain,” Winiarski said when asked about his new role. “I’m out there every week still throwing. The more chances I get to go out there, the happier I am.”
Is there less pressure on him as a midweek starter?
“Definitely not, because as a group of guys, we’re very competitive,” Winiarski said. “We all try to push ourselves to our fullest potential. So none of us really take days off. We can’t think that just because it’s a midweek game, we can’t come out here with our best stuff. Otherwise it’s going to come back and bite us.”
The ACC tournament starts May 25 in Durham, N.C. Even if Winiarski doesn’t reclaim a spot in the weekend rotation before then, he knows “there are going to be opportunities for everyone down the road. It’s going to take four, five starters, and it’s going to take our entire bullpen to get to where we want to go.”
That, of course, would be the College World Series, to which UVa advanced in 2009. Virginia (18-3, 40-4) has three ACC series left, starting this weekend against Boston College (6-14, 15-24) in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
The VCU game would have helped the ‘Hoos prepare for that series, and so O’Connor wasn’t thrilled about the cancellation Tuesday night.
“This game’s meant to be played every day, or as much as possible, to keep your skill level high,” O’Connor said, “and unfortunately this week we’re not going to have a midweek game. But we can’t do anything about Mother Nature, and we just take from it what we can.”
Virginia plays VCU in Richmond on Tuesday night. After that, the Cavaliers are off until May 13, when they begin a three-game series with ACC rival Miami at Davenport Field.
“Final exams is always an interesting time for us, because we don’t play a game for 10 days,” O’Connor said. “That’s a long period of time not to play the game of baseball.”
The goal is to “finish strong,” O’Connor said, “so that we can feel good coming out of that exam break.”