bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the opening four games, you start out 4-0 with three wins over Houston Baptist and a win over New Mexico.
Rocky Ward: It's a nice start. We haven't played great baseball but we've been good enough with all the returning guys playing outstandingly. Aguayo, Starkes, Hipp have been All-Stars and Fisher is coming on a little bit. Voight and Karraker have solidified themselves. We're still having a little trouble getting performance out of left field and DH but that'll come. It's just very unusual for us.
I'm just really really pleased with how good of leaders our returning guys have been. We've gotten solid pitching performances out of our returning guys. We're still struggling a little bit in the pen but not terrible. Reid, Mack, Beck and Ross all four had good solid outings. It's still difficult in college baseball getting games closed out. The Houston Baptist game on Saturday, we gave up a bunch of runs late and really didn't play well but still won. Young kids are getting outs for the first time.
Last night was a little bit different. Voight 's made three errors so far which has been really a surprise to everybody because he's been as surehanded as anybody on the club so that's good. When he's making mistakes and we're winnings we're okay. Last night we had the game in hand at 12-2 after we put up the big number and then gave them some momentum because Zach didn't make a play. They're a Division I team, they're really new. They've got a bunch of new guys. They're not necessarily young but they lost a lot of key people and so they're searching for their identity a little bit. They'll still end up being a pretty good club I think.
bc.net: Last night was kind of typical Aggie baseball, you work through the first six innings and get their starter out and attack the bullpen.
RW: Parker hit a home run in the first which was kind of a shocker because it was hit down the left field line. It was a two strike fastball that was out over the plate and a year ago he couldn't do that. I didn't know he was really prepared to do it now but obviously he can. He started generating some pull type power which we thought he would eventually get but to hit one oppo like that was a shocker and that kind of got us going. Then we made a mistake in the first and gave them a couple runs. Zach [Fisher] was playing first and he's still trying to get used to that. He kind of whiffed on a line drive that was off he end of the bat, kind of a knuckled, that led to two runs there. But we stabilized the game on the mound and Beck was really good. We really had some bad offensive innings in the second and third where we didn't really get anything done. Their guy had some command problems early and we just let him off the hook, went out and got real aggressive in the second and he got us out in like nine pitches which just won't work. It'll happen to you sometimes but if a guy goes out and gets you out in eight or nine pitches in an inning. Occasionally that's okay if the balls were all hit hard but they weren't. They were pitches out of the zone and we kind of helped him out.
Once he got into the game he pitched really well in the fourth and fifth. We were able to put together some really good at bats and get to the 5-2 lead. Starkes hit a two-strike breaking ball for a home run. That's another guy that we thought might hit for a little bit of power and he's really turned into a couple this year. Whether that'll continue the rest of the year, maybe, maybe not but he's starting to carry the ball pretty well.
We got to their bullpen and it's typical midweek, there's not a whole lot down in the pen and they came out and didn't have very good command and we just kept building the inning. We got a couple key basehits out of Karraker where he fouled two or three balls and then got a ground ball through the middle to break it open and then a late pinch hit basehit from Tanner Waite.
We're still working through getting some guys moving. Our stat sheet is a little lopsided right now. Aguayo, Hipp, Voight, Starkes, Karraker and Fisher have put up really big numbers so far. Perkins still hasn't had a hit, Waite had his first hit in a pinch hit at bat, [Ryan] Laing still doesn't have a hit, Clark's got one hit which was a pinch hit home run and he didn't have a good day and Chuck Howard only has a hit so we've got a bunch of guys hitting under .150 and a bunch of guys hitting over .400.
Overall they really put together a good quality inning, we got a good at bats from some guys and extended the inning, just kind of the way we've historically done it.
bc.net: Going back to the Houston Baptist series, you have a similar type of inning in the Sunday game against them.
RW: Yeah, their kid really did a nice job against us. He mixed really well, threw the straight change for a strike, had very good variance on his pitches and we just kind of stayed with it. We got an outstanding performance out of Trey Ross in his first college start. That bodes really well for us because we knew we had Reid, Beck and Mack as guys coming back that had experience and two or three different guys who we weren't sure who was going to fill that role. It's nice for the first time in a very long to have two left-handed starters. In a four game series, it really balances things out. Riley Bevill is another guy that pitched well in his couple of innings on top of Beck in game two and is a guy that might start if we get somebody that is really right-handed in their lineup. We might be able to start him and use Ross in relief. The pitching staff is starting to form and we're getting good outings, we had four really quality outings out of our starters. Mack had a little difficulty in his game but he fought through it. He didn't have very good stuff but he fought through it and got us a good solid outing and we were able to get the lead extended with the bats. When we went to the bullpen with Montoya and Gonsalez, Montoya just couldn't throw a strike and walked the bases loaded and Gonsalez came in and for a freshman kid throwing in his first college game, he wasn't afraid, he went after people. They got a couple balls in the gaps and made it a game. That was kind of his first opportunity to feel the role that Heredia had a year ago. Overall we didn't play great baseball, we made too many errors and we didn't play around the errors terribly well but our offense has been really really good. Through four games, seven home runs, I didn't expect that. It's about on pace for what we did a year ago. I still don't believe we'll hit 100 home runs again, I don't think anybody will do that but the guys have made a really nice adjustment with it.
bc.net: Looking back on the performance on Sunday that you get out of Trey Ross, he allowed just one run on a day that the wind is blowing out 30 mph.
RW: Yeah, it was really quite a performance. That's what a good left-hander does. He throws strikes, he throws the straight change. I guess a lot of people don't realize, the way it works with the fastball and the curveball, the one disadvantage of the curveball is that hitters can see it when it comes out of the hand. They know what its's going to do. When it breaks good it gets the hitter and when it doesn't the hitter's got a pretty good chance to hurt you with it. The straight change isn't like that, it always looks like a fastball.
Trey mixed really well and didn't give them anything they could handle and we played probably our best defensive game that day and so that helped.
bc.net: After the first weekend of action with the new bats, you're averaging 11 runs per game which is a little higher than what you averaged for the 2010 season. What is your assessment of the way your kids have adjusted to the new bats?
RW: It's a little bit of a random thing. I think the newest model of the bat is much better than what we played with this fall but I think our guys have focused more on our pitch selection. They're not forgiven as much when they hit a ball off the end of the bat or off the hands. A guy that I'm really most pleased with in making the transition is Aguayo. He's a line drive type hitter and he has a little bit of power when he gets it all. He's really done good job with the bat. Of all the guys, he was one of the guys, his best fly ball is 410 (ft) so if you don't get it and you take 30 feet off of that, then his best fly ball doesn't get out of the yard most of the time and he's really driving the ball into the gap and keeping the ball on a line and really doing a nice job.
Overall the bat was a non-factor. Our strength as a team has always been getting opportunities to score and giving ourselves opportunities and being patient and drawing the walk and not being dumb and swinging at a pitch to lead off an inning that we can't possibly double with. I think we're a lot further along in our mental preparation than what we've been in a long time and I think the bat has a lot to do with that.
bc.net: What are some other things that you were pleased about this past opening weekend?
RW: More than anything, Karraker has established himself. He was important to us because he is one guy we have evaluated, playing right field here is the hardest position on the field. Sun, high sky, wind, it's one of the hardest right fields in the country to play and he was the guy we thought had the best skills to replace Nate Shaver. I wasn't sure because he had knee surgery this fall whether he'd be ready to go perform with the bat and he has. He's been fabulous so that's one of my most pleasing things. He's jumped in and said I'm the right fielder but I'm also going to provide you with some pop and he's done that.
Zach Voight has continued to play like he did in the fall as a hitter and I've been happy with Andy Lyon as a first baseman. He keeps progressing. Overall he's gotten a lot better around the bag and receiving the ball. What people see as routine is a lot less routine than what you think for a guy that's never played there. Being able to get to the bag and getting in position to catch and keeping your foot on the bag and being flexible enough to deal with errant throws. I've been pleased with his progress. Before we started the weekend, for the alumni game, I was starting Starkes there because I thought I needed to and Wes has only played one or two innings so far this year at first. It's allowed me the flexibility to go back and let him [Starkes] be my center fielder and let Karraker be my right fielder and allow Fisher and Lyon to play there. I played Kurt Snowley there and he did a nice job. Kurt's a third baseman by trade so it's not always an easy transition but his reaction to the pulled line drive from the left-hander is about the same is it would be on a pulled line drive from a right-hander so he has the reaction already there but he handled himself very well. That kid has come on big time since the beginning of the spring.
He was a kid that red-shirted last year because we had Wade Reynoso and I wasn't seeing where Kurt was going to get any playing time at all and you had Joel Cardinal as the backup third baseman and backup shortstop. Now as we know, neither one of those had very good years but you have to plan based on what you expect and so Kurt really really played well towards the end of the fall last year to where it was a difficult decision to not put him on the roster but then he didn't follow it up this fall and had a poor fall but the last two or three weeks his BP sessions have been near perfect, he had a pinch hit at-bat yesterday, he didn't get a basehit but he really scorched a ball at the second baseman who really made a plus-plus play on it. Those guys, I'm real pleased with what they've done as new guys adding to the old group and then as a whole, the returning guys have taken on the new role. It's different. When you're not the frontline name on the team you kind of sit back and play without a whole lot of pressure but when all of the sudden you have Parker Hipp in the three hole and Starkes in the one hole, these are guys that hit later in the lineup last year. Aguayo was in the two hole hitter last year but you move him to the five and all of the sudden he's expected to drive runs in and he did a very good job as an RBI guy a year ago but it's different. The expectations are different and I'm real pleased with how they've handled their situations
bc.net: So far this year your team has been very good at stealing bases. You've got four of five this year from a few different players.
RW: We run better than what we have in the past. Our top three guys in Hipp and Starkes are legitimate base stealers, Voight can run and is a good runner, Karraker is a plus-plus runner. Then you look up and Howard can run a little bit, he's got to pick his spots but he's not a bad runner. We've got four of five spots in the lineup that can run a little bit. When you take away at least on paper right now, the home run, staying out of the double play becomes really important. If you hit into the double play occasionally because you're looking for power and you just mishit a ball, you can forgive yourself because you know you're going to have another opportunity. We've really been aggressive in our baserunning to avoid the double play and our lineup is based around that idea. The top of the lineup has speed, the middle of the lineup is pretty slow and the bottom of the lineup I've got a couple guys that can run and the bottom of the lineup helps me to balance things out a little bit. I've been pleased with it.
bc.net: How has Chuck Howard's return to the lineup as the catcher gone after sitting out last season?
RW: He's caught very well, blocked very well, he was very good yesterday (Tuesday). There were four or five pressure blocks that he had to make in the first five or six innings and he's really done a nice job. He's struggled so far at the plate. He's a very aggressive hitter and needs to fine tune his pitch selection a little better. He had a game against Houston Baptist on Friday where he was 0-for-4 or 0-for-5 with four fly balls to the warning track. They were all hit pretty good but they were all outs. The transition has been good because Chuck can flat out throw. The running game against us to this point has been a non-factor. Houston Baptist didn't have great team speed and New Mexico didn't really get too many opportunities until they were down and so they weren't going to run. He'll become more important as the year goes on in the tighter games because he really throws the ball as good as anybody in the league. The transition for him has been good. He's come in and played pretty good baseball. He just needs to have that 2-for-3 day with a couple doubles to get him going. Maybe we'll get that done this weekend.
bc.net: This weekend you host Buffalo in a double doubleheader.
RW: Yeah, the economy makes us all make adjustments. It was a way for them to save a day of travel, hotel and food and that's what they wanted to do. I think it'll probably be advantageous to us when it's all said and done. I don't know how we'll set it up yet, I think we'll probably play nine inning and seven inning double headers. Sometimes early in the season even in double headers we'll play two nines. They're opening thier season. They haven't played yet and so they'll probably want as much baseball as they can get. We'll see how it goes. It'll be an opportunity, we really don't know what to expect from them. We really don't know how good they'll be, we don't have much background. I'm sure, as is typical of the eastern schools, they'll have a couple pretty good arms. Whether or not they're going to be a very good offensive club, I don't know. Typically they're not quite ready. Pitchers can prepare inside, infielders can prepare inside. Where they have struggles a little bit is outfielders don't have a chance to go track balls and hitters have been hitting in the batting cage. You go sit in the batting cage and you hit seven rockets up into the corner of the netting you can convince yourself they're all home runs but until you actually see the carry of the ball you don't know.
So far we've been able to play different combinations of people. We're still trying to work on our own lineup and identity and what we need to do. We're really solid through the top six guys. We'll get an opportunity for guys like Ty Forney, who will be a very important part of this team, to get some playing time. He'll likely get at least one start this weekend to get Ryan Aguayo off the field and rested or Parker Hipp off the field and rested. Tanner Waite will get a start, Tanner Rust and Kurt Snowley as corner guys will get some opportunities beyond what they've gotten to this point. They've gotten a little bit of playing time but it'll give us a little better look at how deep we actually go and how is really prepared to play. That'll be important to us.