bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the series with Sacramento State?
Rocky Ward: Overall we had great pitching, played solid defense. We didn't play terribly well offensively. We had key basehits, we pretty much got a hit every time we had to have one. Not that we didn't leave our share of guys on base, but we just didn't annihilate the ball like we had been doing. Their pitching staff was okay and they played pretty good defense.
We had some guys that had just backed off of pretty hot runs in Aguayo, Perkins, Shaver and Aguirre had just been on fire for weeks and they kind of all backed up a little bit to normalcy but they each still had key basehits when they were needed. It was kind of one of those weekends where we pitched really well. We played okay defense. We put a couple games in jeopardy because we didn't turn the double play and didn't make a play. Stuff that doesn't show up in the stat sheet, not necessarily errors. We're still a pretty unique ballclub in that we haven't made very many errors that have cost us. We've either played around them or they've come at a time where the game was already in hand.
It was a pretty fortunate weekend and you've got to have a pretty fortunate weekend to sweep anybody, it's hard to do. We got great starting pitching and for gosh sake, we got six or seven strong out of each of our starters and we were pretty much use Coffman and Anderson to setup and close the games and Heredia to bridge a couple games and Reyes to bridge a game. From a pitching standpoint we didn't get pressured too much. We got good starting pitching for the first time this year.
bc.net: Overall on the trip you got good starting pitching with the lone exception of the loss to San Jose State and you starters went fairly deep into every game.
RW: Yeah they did. We had one bad start and lost that game. Outside of that they were all very good starts. Now neither San Jose State or Sacramento State are above average hitting clubs. They're below average offensive teams that play really good quality defense, they run real well, they move the ball around, they've very aggressive, they don't strike out very much. They kind of rely a little too much on baseball luck but that's the way a lot of people approach offense. Let's go put the ball in play, don't strike out and if enough balls hit the holes we're going to be okay. Both teams had a little bit of power that hurt us but not real consistent. As you came through you had to be careful with a couple guys in each of the lineups. The Mezzaneras kid killed us the first couple days but he we just one guy. He kept them in games but he didn't every get an opportunity outside of Sunday when he had men on first and second and he was the tying run and he struck out, that was his first opportunity to win a game but he kept them in a couple games.
We did a good job of getting the people out that we should have and we did a good job of avoiding the power guys in the middle of the lineup. Their power guys are five, six, seven home run kind of guys, not like our guys. We did a nice job.
bc.net: One of the interesting numbers from the road trip, your team scored 36 runs against San Jose State and 27 runs against Sacramento State. Of those 36 and 27 runs, 21 of the runs against San Jose State and 15 of the runs against Sacramento State were scored with two outs.
RW: Offense if you really look at it, the game is designed around scoring runs with two outs. You make a big deal about it because you don't have any room, if you make an out the inning is over. But realistically baseball is designed around that. There are times where you can score with less than two but if you look at our offense over the course of an entire season I think you'd be surprised at the percentage of runs that we score with two outs. It's what we do.
bc.net: Your team has been very good with two outs being able to score runs. What is it in the way you train your guys and the way you teach your guys that enables them to be such good hitters with that kind of pressure?
RW: Two things. One, they're expected to and they get used to it but two is when we start every inning we start with a goal to get the pitcher to at least 15 pitches and if we get him up to 20 pitches in the inning we score like 80 percent of the time. Pitchers are stronger in the first part of the inning than they are towards the end. They're stronger in the windup than they are in the stretch. We spend the first part of every inning trying to get him to work hard to get us out, to throw more pitches, to get on base any way we can outside of leaning into stuff and getting hit by pitches which eventually you pay for with a lot of guys that are injured. That's one thing we don't do. But it's about being tough and selective at what you swing at and we spend a lot of time building innings that way. So when we're scoring with two outs it's usually when he's throwing his 15th, 20th, 25th, 30th pitch. Those pitchers are a lot weaker, less tight on the breaking ball, less velocity on the fastball, more mental pressure on the pitcher and when you continually do that every single inning throughout a game and throughout a series it really wears on an opponent. I think because of the prep that we do prior to two out situations we're much much more prepared to score with two outs than other teams are.
We're very proficient at it and we set up the opponent to be able to do that. This goes all the way back… In my very first season 14 years ago we beat number one ranked Texas Tech by scoring 11 runs in the bottom of the ninth, all of it with nobody on and two outs. They got the first two outs, 11 runs later we walk off with a three run home run by a kid named Ryan Upshaw, we walked off the number one team in the country. That was real late in the year, it wasn't an early ranking before things settled, this was late in the year considered one of the best teams in the country. We've consistently done it. It's part of the system and it's part what we teach our guys to do.
Every hitter has a responsibility to himself but also a stronger responsibility to the hitter that's behind him. If I go out and I get selfish and I swing at the first pitch that close and I ground out or fly out, I've done nothing to prepare the next hitter. I've made it worse for him. But if I go out and strike out but I force the pitcher to throw eight or nine pitches to do it then even though I'm out, I've put the pitcher in a weaker position for the next guy so I pass on a better opportunity to the next guy and that kind of leads to the two out success. It's not a planned thing, it's not something we talk about, it's just something that happens.
bc.net: In the final game of the series with Sacramento State, your pitching staff combined for a shutout victory. It's the first this season but the fourth shutout in the past two seasons.
RW: When you put up eight to 10 runs, if the other team gets a leadoff double or moves a guy to second on a ground ball or a bunt, you're not going to play the infield in. There are a lot of scenarios where we've given up potential shutouts because we're not going to play the infield in. We're going to give up that run to avoid the big inning. It's just kind of a mindset. My team's ERA is going to be higher than the other team's because of our offensive style. I would guess that our team ERA is a full point and a half higher than if we played a different style, a bunt, hit-and-run, steal type of an offense, what you'd consider in college baseball as a five or six run offense. We play a 10 run offense. That's what we do and that's what we're very good at. We've won 31 games with a team ERA of 7.00 yet our scoring margin is in the top 40 in the country. I think we've outscored opponents by a little under three runs per game. What's the difference between a 6-3 final score and a 9-6 final score? Nothing. It's the same margin. There are times where our team's staff gets blamed for more than they should.
This is a very good pitching staff, it's very young. Our numbers are kind of ugly because of a period during the season where we weren't very good. Our young guys were struggling, they had too much pressure on them and a couple of our older guys didn't return to form from last year. You look up and you're carrying this big old heavy earned run average. But you look at the last eight games, I know our earned run average was under 2.00 against Sacramento and I think in those last eight games we pitched around a 4.00 ERA and that's with one game where we got hammered pretty good.
bc.net: With the shutout, do the pitchers get to take batting practice?
RW: Yep! They'll be whining tomorrow. The thing that's bad about it is my pitchers can hit. Last year after the shutout (against Fresno State) we were in Reno, it was the first opportunity we had to let them do it. So they hit at Reno and between Simon and Cooper, I let them hit around three rounds of five, kind of a normal BP set, they hit about 20 home runs. It's fun. We'll go ahead and do it tomorrow and get it out of the way.
It's going to be fun. We've got a chance this time of year, we're coming off the road, playing good baseball. All we really need to do in practice at this stage is get the guys together, talk about the next opponent and keep them active. I've got a couple guys we need to fix some strokes with and get them back going. Reynoso had a bad week, Shaver had a bad week, there's a couple things we can do with Ryan Aguayo's stroke to kind of get him back a bit to more consistency and the same thing with Chace Perkins. They're minor, small adjustments. We made more adjustments with offensive players than anybody does during a series. But you only have about 10 or 15 pitches to do it in BP and you're not going to go take them out there and work their butts off with extra hitting when you're playing every day. So we've got a little work to do.
bc.net: At the halfway point your ballclub has established themselves as the team to beat in the final three weekends. What have you seen from your guys that makes you know they'll be able to carry that pressure into the second half of the schedule?
RW: Well, because I thought we really played poorly offensively and in a couple of times defensively and yet we won. We didn't play well and won. When you have a team… it wasn't just that. You get a little worn out being on the road, sleeping in a different bed and all that stuff. I thought we were really unemotional in game two and three in the series. Game four, yesterday's game, their kid pitched good. We hit a lot of balls hard, right at them and so did they. It was scoreless through five, there were a lot of ball hit hard, a lot of good defensive plays and both pitchers pitched well. So I didn't have any problem with that. But the middle two games, there wasn't much emotion and sometimes that's good. We went out and did what we had to do. But for the first time this season, I really got after them in the dugout about the fourth inning of game two, I thought we'd put the game in jeopardy, and we had. They'd left like seven guys on base. They had a couple line drives hit at people, we had a couple double plays we didn't make, a couple errors, we were playing terrible. So I jump at 'em pretty good and we go score three and kind of reestablished the game. They responded well when they were challenged. That in itself tells me a lot.
In this league, you don't know. Sacramento beat Hawai'i three out of four. Now people are gonna say, "Well, Hawai'i is last in the league." Yeah, but they also played the traditional guy, Fresno, the guy that's won the conference championship four years in a row. They got beat three out of four by Fresno in Hawai'i in pretty good games. I still think Hawai'i is a really good club. I think they've underperformed as much as anybody but Sacramento beat them three out of four pretty good. You just can't say if this team beat this other team then they should beat this other team. It just doesn't work that way in this league. I've seen teams go out and win three out of four on the road and then get swept at home which is kind of what Sacramento just did. They won three out of four at home and the got swept. They had all kinds of momentum going into our series.
I thought that was good. I thought my team had to have their heads ready to play. I think that if Sacramento had lost three out of four it would have been one of those dangerous series where I was going to have a hard time convincing guys to stay focused. I still had troubles. You win the game in San Jose with four runs in the top of the ninth. We played around with the Friday game but scored a bunch of runs late again. That's great to be able to do but all it takes in baseball is a couple line drives, you do everything you were supposed to do and you hit a couple line drives at guys and all of the sudden you don't get those big numbers and you get beat because you coasted through the middle part of the game or didn't play as hard as you needed to.
This is a good group of guys that have got it going. Louisiana Tech is a unique challenge because they've got one guy that's really good on the mound, they've got a real quality offense but they're either hot or cold. They either score 12 or they score two. It'll be an interesting challenge. They have the ability offensively to really get oafter you. They've got one of the better hitters in the league in Davon Dageford and three or four more guys that can get the ball out of the yard. They're not much different offensively than us. The real difference is if you look at the stats is their batting average is a little bit less, the strikeout totals are higher and their walks are a lot less. They have a lot of talent but they don't maximize it quite as well as we do.
bc.net: How much confidence did your pitching gain from this eight game road trip and how will that translate into this weekend's series?
RW: It's more about growth. When you look up we got great outings out of the freshmen [Tyler] Mack and [Ryan] Beck. They've both pitched real quality over the past two or three weeks. The games they threw against Sacramento, Beck was a last minute start mainly because he was available in relief where he'd really done a nice job. We had to use Jared Jordan in game three where he went three innings for the three inning save, otherwise he'd have been the starter. We had a couple other guys we could have gone to but it worked out good. He went out and really pitched well. Both of those kids have established themselves really well. Reid has been better and better each out and Cooper has become pretty comfortable in the one hole. He's kind of been a heart attack pitcher because he'll go out and get himself in trouble with the walk but he's really got good stuff and is hard to hit. He went seven innings in game one, he gave up five hits in seven innings which is good. Anytime you can get less hits than innings, but he walked six. He was in trouble pretty much the whole game. He's just gonna be that kind of guy I guess. If he ever figures out how to cut his walks in half, he may end up being one of the dominant Friday night starters in this league. He's starting to work his way towards that. He's got really good stuff but he just has a tendency to lose focus at times.
The team feels like we have a legitimate one, two and three starter now. We really feel like we've got three guys we like to see go to the mound and we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from them. Beck or Jordan, depending on how Jordan is going to be used in relief or not, you've got two options as your four guy and we're getting a ton of mileage out of Anderson and Coffman. Probably less out of Anderson because he's kind of new to it but he's really served that closing role and established himself well there. Heredia has been pretty darn good along with Reyes out of the bullpen in short stints. So you feel like you've got eight guys that you really trust. And we still have D.J. Simon who was our guy all of last year who I really think is going to be important to this club on the mound. I don't know when or where but he's going to be important.
The advantage that we had a year ago in that conference tournament is we were the only team that had a legitimate closing corps. People that we could give the ball to and expect to hold leads. And they did it pretty consistently. We feel like we have the same thing again. We feel like we have a real big advantage when we lead or we're close, within a run or two either way in the seventh inning. When you look at our statistics over the last three or four weeks we really haven't given up very many runs after the fifth. There have been a whole lot of zeros after the fifth inning. The Nevada series, it was a savior. We had two games like that where we were really bad early, bad starts, where we put up zeros or low numbers in the last few innings and we were able to score runs on the offensive side an flip flop games and turn them into wins. No better example than the 10-10 tie. We were down 8-0 after two. That game is over normally. It wasn't just because we made a good offensive run but it was because we only gave up two offensive runs the rest of the way. We did a good job in relief. It gave us a chance to get it tied in the seventh and a chance to win it in the eighth before the curfew ran out.
bc.net: What's the status of Ben Harty and will he be available for this weekend's series?
RW: He might be available. He's cleared to hit but whether or not he'll be game ready this weekend, I'll find that out tomorrow when he comes back and swings the bat and I talk to him about how much stiffness and soreness he has. The incision from the surgery is healed, it's just a matter of getting his strength back. When we left for the road trip we expected that he would be ready to be playable for sure for the Fresno series the week after this. There's a possibility that he might be back this weekend. The prognosis at one point was that he might be out for the year. I'm still concerned about how well he'll come off of the layoff and jump right back in. To expect him to jump right back in at the clip that he was going at, that's not realistic. I won't say he won't do it but to expect that would be bad management technique as a coach. I'm going to be careful with him. We've played fabulous baseball since we lost him. He'll be an addition when he comes back in but we'll have to work him back in a little bit.
Mike Sodders is a week by week deal, he was on the road with us so we could continue to do rehab. It's one of those injuries where we have to rest him for two or three weeks. The doctor will look at him this week and tell us whether or not he'll clear him to paly and we don't know. A lot of it will depend on how he responded to the rest and the rehab. He's got an injury that he could play with but he could also… he's got a partially torn ligament that he could tear it completely and cause himself long term problems.
What could have been six weeks in a cast that would have taken him out of the year completely goes to a rehab that gives us a chance to get him back by the tournament but then if he goes and plays on it and the ligament didn't heal enough and it snaps, then we're talking about surgery and a six month rehab that might take away any pro chances he had. So there are a lot of things that we're dealing with with him beyond just whether he'll play for us or not.
bc.net: You had a couple guys last year in Leo Aguirre and Mike Sodders who had to take roughly the same amount time off as Ben Harty has had to take. How can they help him from a mental standpoint of helping him work back in and knowing what to expect?
RW: Ben is a pretty laid back kid. I don't think he'll have a whole lot of problems. He's not a real emotional guy, he's pretty quiet. My concern with him is not emotional as much as it is physical. He's been able to run and do things like that but from his position standpoint, he hasn't caught or throw. Sure, I'm sure the experience with Leo and Mike, I'm sure they've already talked to him a little bit. But having watched it has probably gave him more experience than anything that they can tell him.