After Matthew Scruggs hit the first home run on opening day at Thomas Stadium, he was asked if he considered himself a long-ball hitter.
He said he didn’t. And he still doesn’t.
The numbers say otherwise.
Scruggs, the center fielder on the East Tennessee State baseball team, hasn’t stopped hitting home runs since opening day. In fact, the senior from Knoxville leads all of Division I with 10 homers.
“I’m not trying to hit home runs,” Scruggs said Monday. “I’m just playing the game as hard as I can and trying to make things happen, trying to get a win for our team. I’m gonna take them, but I’m just trying to get on base and be a tough out every time I get to the plate.”
Scruggs has definitely been a tough out. He’s second on the team in batting average at .342 and leads the squad in home runs, RBIs (20) and runs (23). His .808 slugging percentage is second in the Atlantic Sun Conference and in the top 10 nationally.
“Matt has provided a lot of punch for our offense so far,” ETSU coach Tony Skole said. “He’s just a great, dynamic, physical athlete. He’s got a lot of tools. He runs well. He hits for average and obviously he’s hitting with a lot of power this year. He can bunt for hits and he can really do a lot of things offensively to beat you.”
Scruggs came into the season with 26 home runs in his previous three years with the Bucs, so the power has been there at times.
“I just feel really comfortable,” he said. “I’m getting pitches I can hit and trying to take advantage of every at bat. I’m just enjoying getting up to the plate.”
He certainly enjoyed one particular game this season. In a 15-3 victory over LaSalle, he went 5 for 5 with two home runs. He also scored five runs and drove in five more. He was a double shy of hitting for the cycle.
However, Scruggs hasn’t been invincible this season. He’s averaging a strikeout a game.
“He strikes out probably a little more than we’d like him to,” Skole said. “But when you’re hitting for power, you’re gonna have those. We take the good with the bad. We’ve had a lot of power hitters here in the past and they’ve had big strikeout numbers.”
The Bucs come into today’s 3:05 p.m. home game against UNC-Asheville with a 10-8 record. It’s not as good as they hoped, considering 16 of those 18 games have been at home.
“You go back and look at it, there’s really four games that I called ‘upset stomach games,’ ” Skole said. “If we win those four games, which we should have, we’re 14-4. Winning and losing, you realize it’s such a fine line. We’re in good shape.”
The Bucs are hitting .291 as a team – Clinton Freeman leads at .391 — and average 5.4 runs per game. Meanwhile, their pitching has been the best it’s been under Skole. The staff has an ERA of 3.80 and is holding opposing hitters to a .246 average.
“I can’t complain about the pitching,” Skole said. “We’ve gotten great starting pitching and the bullpen has been lights out. Pitching and defense is keeping us in games. We have to get better offensively.”
One thing Skole can count on is Scruggs continuing to do his part.
“I am proud of Matt,” Skole said. “He’s really worked hard on his swing. He’s really put in a lot of extra time throughout his career. He deserves the success he’s having.”