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Penn State Baseball Sets Rotation For Opening Weekend

Penn State baseball announced its opening weekend starting rotation Wednesday through an electric hype video from the team’s official Twitter account.

Bailey Dees will toe the rubber on Opening Day for the second straight season when Penn State takes the field Friday against Northwestern. Conor Larkin will start the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday morning, followed by freshman Jaden Henline, who is set to go in the afternoon. Kyle Virbitsky will round out the rotation and start on Sunday.

Dees pitched to the tune of a 1.88 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 28.1 innings. Coach Rob Cooper expects a lot from the 6’8″ righty this season, as Dees is the most experienced pitcher on the roster.

“He’s made unbelievable jumps, and his work ethic is off the chart,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s praise of his ace didn’t stop there. Penn State’s skipper also said Dees’ hard work has resulted in a fastball that has touched 97 mph in spring workouts. Projecting Dees as a high-round MLB Draft choice is also not out of the question, according to Cooper.

Conor Larkin’s No. 2 status was never in doubt, as his impressive 2020 season resulted in a 1.69 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 21.1 innings pitched. If Larkin can pitch anywhere near his 2020 level, he and Dees will be one heck of a one-two punch for Penn State.

The real surprise of the rotation comes in the form of freshman Jaden Henline. The New Cumberland, Pennsylvania native pitched for a state championship team during his time at Red Land High School, and Cooper and his staff believe he has earned his spot in the rotation partly due to that winning pedigree.

Henline also brings optimism for the future of the program because he gets to learn under established veterans like Dees and Larkin.

“We’re excited for what he brings to the table. Cooper said. “And the good thing is, I don’t think any of us think he’s anywhere close to where he’s going to be when it’s all said and done.”

Holding down the fourth slot in the rotation will be junior Kyle Virbitsky. While he didn’t accumulate eye-popping stats like Dees and Larkin and doesn’t offer the potential of Henline, Virbitsky should round out the staff as a consistent option. Finishing the shortened 2020 campaign with a 4.02 ERA in 15.2 innings, Virbitsky did a great job of not letting games get out of hand early.

Cooper also noted that the Big Ten’s delayed start to the season was an advantage to his guys, as pitchers had more time to develop closer to their midseason form and freshmen had more time to learn the ins and outs of the program.

“I think that a lot of us [Big Ten teams] will have guys that are a little bit farther ahead, a little bit more stretched out,” Cooper said. “As of right now…I think the pitching is one of [Penn State’s] strengths.”

A pitcher to watch this season is lefthander Hutch Gagnon, who made two starts last season along with two relief appearances. Gagnon will begin the season in the bullpen, but his versatility could lead to a few spot starts during the season.

Catch the Diamond Lions on BTN+ all weekend starting at noon on Friday, March 5.

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About the Author

Matt Rudisill

Matt is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism from a little town called Parkesburg in Chester County, PA. More often than not, you can catch him yelling about the Phillies and the Steelers on his Twitter (@mrudy26). Matt is also an elite wiffleball pitcher and is not afraid to back up that claim. Direct all wiffleball challenge invitations, or other legitimate requests, to mpr5529@psu.edu.

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