bleedCrimson.net: Ryan Aguayo was named the WAC Hitter of the Week for his outstanding weekend last week against Buffalo.
Rocky Ward: He had one of those unbelievable weeks where almost every ball he hit was hit hard and if it wasn't hit hard it landed for a hit anyway. He went 4-for-4 with two home runs in the first game on Saturday and it was just perfect hitting. He used the conditions. He went out and looked for a fastball out over the plate, hit it to right field. I don't know if it would have left or not without the wind but it doesn't make any difference. It's about the hitter being smart enough to understand his conditions.
He just did a really nice job on the whole weekend. He's had a great start to the season period. Before the second game of the doubleheader I was giving him a hard time, I said, "Hey Ryan, you're hitting .600. Are you gonna keep that up?" and he just looked at me right dead in the eye and said, "Yeah, no problem" and he goes out and goes 4-for-4 with two home runs. Is he gonna .600? No he's not. But I don't know what he's gonna do. The kid has really great approach and he's one of the smartest baseball players I've ever been around. He doesn't grade as our best hitter when you look at his bat speed and his strength and all that stuff but there are days when he clearly is our best hitter.
bc.net: You talked about Ryan in our preseason interview and how pleased you were with the adjustments he'd made with the new bats. He's also in year two of your system. How much of his hot start can be attributed to those two factors?
RW: It's something that we've always felt like the first year in our program, it takes a full year for a guy to really understand what we're asking him to do. The concept has been taught forever in all of baseball that you can't get a hit if you don't swing the bat. Well no kidding. But you're also not going to maximize your capability if you swing at pitches that you can't hit. If you're down by one on the road with a man at first base, a single is not good enough. You've got to look for a pitch that you can double with. Are you going to get it? You don't know. That's random. It depends on what the pitcher does but you have to plan for that. So many coaches overlook the simple concept of discipline.
It's hard for guys to understand that you might have to pass up a ball you might be able to get a hit on in order to have an opportunity to get a pitch that you might double or homer with. It takes a lot of self confidence because if you pass up a pitch you know you can line drive with you may not get another pitch you can hit in that at bat. You've gotta trust that over the course of time you're going to get enough opportunities and he's done a really nice job of understanding very clearly what we teach.
bc.net: Chuck Howard was a player that you were looking to get on track this past weekend and he had a 2-for-3 day and a 5-for-6 day.
RW: Yeah, it was really good. Out of the first weekend we had six guys that were hot and six guys that were not. When you looked at the stat sheet you had a bunch of guys hitting over .500 and a bunch of guys hitting over .200 and a bunch of guys without hits and Chuck was one of those guys without a hit. It was good to see him, and Tanner Waite was another guy, Tanner got a chance to start the double-header on Sunday because Perkins got hit by a pitch in batting practice and nothing long term but the ball pinched his finger, a huge blood blister came up and he couldn't throw. So Tanner got an opportunity as well and he did a nice job.
It was good to see chuck get moving. He is a little bit of a momentum type hitter. He has a tendency to get those 4-for-5 days but he also has a tendency to counter them with 0-for-5s. We're working through it with him a little bit to see if he can become a little more disciplined, be a little bit more selective and he's done a nice job. The one thing I noticed was the total number of pitches he saw in the first weekend was probably only about 20, this weekend he saw 40 or 45. He took more pitches, he was more disciplined, he had better selection of pitches over the weekend.
bc.net: The series against Buffalo was kind of a weird one in that you had four games in two days, a double-doubleheader.
RW: I didn't worry about it too much because I knew I was going to use that weekend to play a lot of guys. I got starts for Snowley and Waite, Forney and Clark and a lot of guys that didn't get starts on the first weekend and guys got starts and significant playing time this weekend. I knew that even though we were playing four games in two days that I was really doing it with two different squads. Parker Hipp didn't play in one the games, he only played three, that's a normal setup for him. Aguayo for all intents and purposes had enough rest that he played a little over three. Starkes played pretty much every inning, Karraker played pretty much every inning, Voight, I got him off the field a little bit but there were only a few players that really had to play the full setup. It's early enough in the year that you've gotta get guys moving and the only way you can get them moving and a significant part of the ballclub is to get them an opportunity to start the game and get the some playing time.
It's tough but it's still early in the year. The guys are still fresh. To do this in a month would be really difficult, really a grind. Overall the guys handled it pretty well. Sunday was miserable, wind chills, the high was only 40, wind's blowing 30 mph, wind chills were consistently under 30 all day. It wasn't fun to go through but a little adversity doesn't hurt, pushing yourself doesn't hurt. It wasn't terribly enjoyable to go through it all day in those cold, windy, nasty conditions but it gave me a chance to evaluate who's going to be tough, who's going to be the fair weather players, who's going to be able to play off the bench when it's freezing, who's going to do what they need to prepare and I was pretty pleased with the guys all the way round. It didn't have anything to do with winning the games, it had to do with the way they handled it. We all would have preferred for us to win a couple games 5-3 and get them in and get out but that's not the way it happened. Two high-scoring long games, out on the field for eight or nine hours in those conditions but overall it worked out pretty nicely.
bc.net: Who are a couple of guys that maybe made your travel squad with their play over the weekend.
RW: Ty Forney has done what I hoped he'd do. He's disappointed a little bit, he was the starting shortstop at Yavapai last year and he really pushed Aguyao pretty hard. He's actually got better physical skills than Ryan and I think he was disappointed he wasn't named as the starter. I know on the outside looking in people that watched Ryan Aguayo play last year are saying I can't believe you would even consider that. You have to. When you recruit players and you brine players in, one of the things I tell them is nobody is safe, everybody's gotta win the job each year. So he was a little bit disappointed that he wasn't going to be a full time starter but he's made the transition nicely. He's gonna be a really valuable player to us as a guy that can give Hipp and Aguayo rest in four game series through the year. He's proven to this point that he can play as a late inning defensive replacement to give us a little more range and a little better defender. If we're in a one run game we feel like we can go out after Ryan's had his last at bat and go out and give us a couple innings of better defense. So I'm really pleased with what he's done and with his attitude. I'm proud of him. It's not easy.
Kurt Snowley has brought himself way along. I got him a start at first base against a right-hander last weekend just to see how he would handle it. He's been normally a third baseman and worked out a little bit at first. I'm really happy with him. He and Tyler are two really important guys to the club.
Ryan Clark is still coming along. He's got great power as a hitter, he still isn't as consistent and he still hasn't had that breakthrough game. He had an okay game in the game he started as a DH. He's still a guy that is a big-time left-handed hitting DH off the bench.
There are a lot of guys that are going to contribute. I've been really pleased with the way the ballclub has come together. When I started the season I really wasn't sure how I was going to manage these guys. We have like three or four first basemen. How am I going to get these guys the playing time they need? So far it's worked out well. I feel real comfortable with how I'm going to attack left or right-handed pitchers. I feel real comfortable with who I can use off the bench against a power closer type guy or a breaking ball left-hander. It's come along real well.
We're going to travel to Houston with 15 position players and 11 pitchers. We could go to 16 and 10 and maybe be a little better off but we still have some things that our younger pitchers need to be involved with. We're really good in our pitching staff. We have 13 guys on our pitching staff and we're good through eight. The bottom five are new guys that are trying to figure themselves out. Randy Montoya came in last weekend and walked the bases loaded and kind of put a game in jeopardy. He threw a couple shutout innings this weekend. I'm happy with what he's done.
Trey Gonsalez on that same inning that Randy gave up three walks, Trey gave up three hits and when the dust settled ended up giving up six runs and let them back i the game but Trey came back and pitched well again. So those guys, we're going to try to travel them and try to use them so that they get to the point where they can serve one of the three roles, either as a closer, setup guy or a bridge guy. The bridge guy is the one guy we really don't have. We're still kind of looking for that guy. We've had reasonable success but we've been so good offensively to this point that we haven't really had that challenge. We still have to work that out.
bc.net: This weekend you head out to Beaumont where you'll take on CS-Northridge, Lamar and San Francisco.
RW: Last year we opened at Arizona but them we stayed at home for a long time. I like it better when you can have a copule weekends at home like then and kind of get ready. I was a little nervous about playing New Mexico on the road so early after only three games but guys handled it real well. At the same time it's good that you get into another environment. We're going to see similar type conditions to Fresno, Sacramento or San Jose. We get to see three different opponents. I think it's important that you do at least one of these a year where you face different opponents because it simulates the WAC tournament. You line up people differently, you prepare for each guy instead of preparing for the same guy each day. It gives the players a little bit of an experience that's very similar to what we'll do when we go into the WAC tournament.
bc.net: What will you be looking for out of your team this weekend?
RW: I'm looking forward to a little bit different environment. It'll be a good weekend for our defense to play well. It'll matter. For example when we go to Fresno and we go to Reno, those are places you need to play good defense. In particular in Reno because they have field turf. When a ball is hit you know exactly where it's going to be, how hard it's hit and the field turf actually slows the ball down. Your consistency of defense makes a difference. Everybody has a little better range as infielders and there aren't very many glove errors because there aren't any bad hops on field turf.
I've been very pleased and very proud with the fact that our team over the last two years in particular has been outstanding on the road. It's been a huge difference in developing a platform for our program. You've got to be a good road team to win 30-plus and you have to be a good road team to compete for a conference title. I look forward to getting out in different conditions.
bc.net: The three opponents you're facing this weekend have had some success early, CS-Northridge won their series with Valparaiso this past weekend, San Francisco played tough with No. 1 UCLA to start the season and Lamar has a win over Top 25 Rice.
RW: I think we've gained a little advantage in that each team we've played has been trying to get that first win under their belt so they can relax a little bit. All these teams have not only gotten wins under their belts but as you mentioned Lamar has a quality win over Rice. The assistant coach from Fresno State took over at Northridge so we know him pretty well, he'll do a good job with that program. San Francisco is a little bit of an unknown because UCLA was supposed to be one of the best pitching staffs in the country and even though San Jose banged them up a little bit they probably still are. So it's hard to believe San Francisco's offensive numbers because they're bad. They've had a tough time scoring but is it because they've faced the best people in the country or because they're not very good. We'll see. I think it's a nice mix.