Feb. 12, 2007
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How is the Preseason going?
I feel like we are where we need to be as far as work that we have accomplished. We got ahead last week, because of the good weather. All of the pitchers have got their innings in as far as intrasquads. Now it is time to play somebody else and put the finishing touches on it and go out a get after it on Friday.
How do you feel about the pitching after the first few weeks?
Our biggest unknown is relief pitching, we got from setup guys to closers. Hopefully, Patrick Ezell will take the closer role. That is who we will go with first. The set-up guys could be some true freshmen. It could be Tyler Conn, I really don't know. For the first 15 games, we have to find out who is going to be our relief pitchers. In college baseball, the game is won in the seventh through ninth innings. It is very seldom that you get a guy throwing for seven innings, it is hard to do. We have been fortunate the last four years to have had great closers. That is the key, and I think that has been one of the bigger reasons why we have been successful. I really believe that is what propelled us over the top last year; having Daniel (Best) at the end, because we struggled on the mound with the exception of him.
At this point who are you looking to go into Friday as the setup pitcher?
I would say Tyler Conn, a left-handed pitcher or either Jared Cavenaugh, a right-handed true freshman. We will go with Patrick (Ezell) as the closer early. I think we have a lot of guys in the mix. We just have to throw it out and see what sticks and a lot of guys have to grow up early, but we have had a lot of success with freshmen.
Does Ezell seem to have his confidence back?
This to me is not a demotion; I know he could be in our top four starters. The way I coach, you have to have a closer, and to me our relief pitching is just as important as our starters. Some people say you have to get to him, but you have to have somebody who can finish. I liked what he did in relief last year, he showed us he could close about six or seven times. He throws hard, he throws strikes, he is a four-year guy, and he has been through a lot of big games. I think that he is fine with it, and I know he wants to have a really good year and this might be the best for him and his career.
Where does McInnis fit into your plans at this point?
I would say as a mid-week starter. Him and Cavenaugh are bouncing back from mid-week starter to relief, and I think that is going to take time to see who develops into that role. They are the two freshmen that are going to pitch, and we are going to stay with it, they both are gifted pitchers, and they are just going to have to grow up quick.
Talking about Tyler Conn ...
He is left-handed, a good athlete he has three pitches for strikes, and he has been a starter all through high school and junior college career. Hopefully, we can have the same success for him as we had with Tyler Perrett, a good starter in junior college that we made into a set-up guy. And if I had my wish I would want him to be the set-up guy, because I think a left-hander to set-up the eighth inning is a lot tougher then a right handed pitcher, especially with all our starters being right-handed.
Going from a starter to a relief role - what is the change in mindset for those guys?
I think once they realize that they don't have all day to warm up, because things happen quickly, they will be alright. That is why during our inner squad games, I try to simulate things happening, and I have done that with five or six guys so that they will be use to it.
What injuries is the team suffering from?
We are concerned about Eddie Burger's arm; he is coming off Tommy John surgery. He finally won the starting job in the fall and played well, the whole key for him is can we get his arm back for Friday. That is a big deal, he is a fifth-year senior, the pitchers have a lot of confidence in him and the way he works with the pitchers - that is who we need to be back there. I won't make a decision on him until probably Wednesday or Thursday, because you have to be able to throw and he is about 60% right now. He hurt it about a week ago; I think it is just a flare up from the surgery. Trey Sutton is going to have to open the season at first base. He hurt his elbow pretty bad throwing in an offseason program so we are going to have to be real careful. It is still bothering him so we decided to move him to first base and keep his bat in the lineup.
How does that affect the rest of the lineup?
We are going to go with Bailey Hartel at second base. And it depends on who the pitcher is on who we will put at our DH, because I am going to always play three left-handed batters against right-handed pitchers. I don't think we are going to miss anything defensively. Michael Ewing is going to be in the lineup every day, because he is one of our top players, whether it is first base, DH, or the outfield; he is just someone we have to have in the lineup. Anything can happen in the outfield though. I felt good about all of our position players. We have plenty of depth at all positions, except for catcher.
Will offense be the strength of the team like it has been the past few years?
I think we are going to hit, let's just say if we don't we are going to have a hard time having a successful season. That is the best part of our game. We have some guys that know how to play the game; we have a transfer James Ewing who is probably the best Division I transfer I have ever had. He is probably one of the top three players on the team. He is like his brother just has some hard nose toughness.
Do you feel comfortable defensively with James?
Yes, I do, he not a Bo Griffin, but he is like Mark Maddox he will be fine. At shortstop, I think Brian Dozier will be good as Matt Shepherd before he leaves. I know that is a mouth full, but he is doing things now that he couldn't do last year. He will lead off on Friday. We tried to keep him at the bottom but we can't because he is one of our better hitters/ He is one of the few guys that are good defensively and a good hitter. I am excited about him, he has become more of a leader this year, and he never lets you see him sweat.
What would you like to see out of your team early in the season?
Even though we are young, I think those guys know how to play the game. I am more worried about our young pitchers then I am our young position players. I think that the Ewing brothers (James and Michael), Adkins (Luke) and Dozier (Brian), even though they are sophomores, I don't think there aren't any sophomores in this league I would take ahead of them. How the young pitchers hold up is going to be the key. I am worried about where the leadership is going to come from. We have some good senior players, but not a Mark Maddox, or Jeff Cook or a Cliff Russum. I have a theory about leadership, you can be a good leader but you have to have numbers to really be a great leader. I would not be surprised if some of our younger guys will be better leaders then some of our older guys.
You are going to be calling pitches from the dugout - how does that change things?
I am not going to call them, Coach Berry (Scott) is. Coach Berry and I have been together forever, and he will not be coaching third base this year. That is not a demotion. He will be taking over the pitching staff. Coach Burroughs (Lane) will be coaching third base. I think this change is for the betterment of the program with him coaching pitchers in practice. I am trying to do anything I can to improve our pitching staff. Between Coach Berry and myself, we have double-teamed the pitching, because the hitting is going to take care of itself.
Talk about the success you have had over the last several years.
I think for the first time in along time, we have some good senior players but not a superstar. In our run in the last regionals, we have had some great players, guys who have been All-American. It is just about ability, you want everybody to do well, but our sophomore players are more gifted then our older guys. We have to have some people step up, especially our older guys.
What do you think about the conference this year?
Very tough; Rice, Tulane basically everybody is good. I think that Memphis will have the best hitting team in the league. I think people tend to forget about them, they outhit us last year. I don't know how well they will pitch, but I am expecting them to have some good hitters. Tulane will be good, and Brian Shoop at UAB will be an aggressive coach, and they will get better as time goes on in the league.
What is the rotation for this weekend?
Ryan Belanger, Barry Bowden, David Clark, McInnis and maybe Cavenaugh, I haven't decided on him yet. That is what it will boil down to how we are going to pitch. We can't continue with a 4.80 ERA, and have the kind of season we want. The only reason we got away with it last year is because we had a great closer in Daniel Best. He is the best closer I have ever had in all my years of coaching. We are going to have to play a lot better this year then we did last year, because of that factor, because I saw him do some things I didn't think was possible. We talk about all the other great players we have had, his shoes are the biggest to fill in my eyes. If we don't get that done on the field it is no use for us to have a good offense.