bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on Dan Reid picking up WAC Pitcher of the Week honors?
Rocky Ward: You know me, I've always thought my pitchers haven't gotten quite enough credit. That being the fact that our style of play is more offensive and our individual ERAs and team ERAs are a little higher than normal just because we don't play the infield in very much. We play different defensive sets to avoid the big inning. We'll give up a run or two, we'll play a soft defense. If you want to put it in football terms, it's a prevent defense all the time. We don't to give up the bomb, we'll give up the short runs.
The end result is it hurts my pitchers' numbers sometimes. Dan was really good. When you look at the numbers, a complete game and a real complete game that we didn't have to have him throw 150 pitches. He threw about 115 or 120. You feel like you didn't use him up too much. He was pretty fresh because he had missed his start against Oregon State from the rainout and so he hadn't pitched in about nine or 10 days.
He's turned himself into a pretty legitimate number one pitcher in this league. He's second in the league in ERA. He goes out and he's throwing strikes, he's developed a better breaking ball than he had a year ago. It's sharper. To a certain extent I think out of all the guys that have benefitted from the new bat, he's benefitted from hit. His problem a year ago was that he threw too many strikes. If you miss by a little bit with those old bats, a guy can get a little bit of the barrel on it and hit it out of the yard. That doesn't work with the new bats anymore. His command of three pitches and his ability to throw all three in any count has really helped. His straight change has gotten better to the point where he used it a lot in this game. He put a lot of balls in play. It was a complete game with three walks and two strikeouts. He didn't strike out a whole bunch of people but he's learning, like most young pitchers when they mature, that it takes less effort to get a hitter to hit a ball into play and get an out, it takes much more effort to strike a guy out.
He's starting to learn how to do that. He pitches to the bat. He gets the ball around the zone and keeps making quality pitches and he just keeps getting better. I'm really pleased with it. We haven't had very many Pitchers of the Week.
bc.net: It feels like Dan Reid has that same type of feel that you had with DJ Simon in 2009 where guys play up when he's on the mound and you know heading into a series that with him on the mound you've got a very good chance to win that first game which is something that you maybe struggled with a little bit last year not having that type of guy.
RW: Yeah, we definitely struggled with it a lot last year. We won our share of games on Fridays but they were battles. He's getting to the point where you're confident that once we get into conference, he can go head-to-head against the other team's best pitcher and not be giving up anything.
He can go out and compete as a number one pitcher. In order to win the league and win a conference championship and maybe more importantly to win the conference tournament, it requires performance from your entire staff. Your number one guy just gets to go one day. You have to decide if that's going to be game one or if you're gonna hold him for later. Those are tough coaching decisions but to have a legitimate number one pitcher gives you a chance to go win the series and establish yourself and it gives you a chance to feel like you can have that advantage of winning on Fridays and the psychological advantage that comes with that.
You can use Stephen Strasburg two years ago as an example. San Diego State just had an okay offensive team and some days you figure they weren't very good at all just looking at their numbers but they knew that Strasburg was going to go the mound and give them a chance to win. They felt like sometimes all they had to do was score one or two.
We're not quite there with Dan and we don't expect that. We know he can do that but we know that he's going to go out and compete. The thing about a mature pitcher like him, you know over the course of the season there will be an outing or two where he pitches well but maybe we don't play good defense or their fly balls happen to hit the gaps. He's mature enough to handle that. Some of the best pitching performances that I remember as a coach are not some of the ones that the media or the fans remember. Those are the ones where the guy went out and got dumped around a little bit and maybe gave up five or six runs in a game but he battled to keep us in the game.
We've always felt like he's been that type of guy but now he's gotten to the point where he's that type of guy that every time he goes to the mound he's got a chance to keep the opponent's score way down and he's already done it two or three different times.
It's one of those things you know you have to have over the course of the season. You've got to have that type of guy and we feel like we have it.
bc.net: Your starting rotation is really starting to shape up a lot like the one you had in the 2009 season where you had four good dependable starters that are giving you a solid five or six innings per outing.
RW: Yeah, we've kind of added to it as well. When you look at the season to this point. Ryan Beck has had outstanding outings except for one, he's had one bad outing. Ross really hasn't had a bad outing, Reid really hasn't had a bad outing. Mack's outings were shaky in the beginning of the year then he had a bad outing but then these last few times to the mound he's been really good. He pitched in relief at Oregon State, then came back as a starter this week again. His last two outings have been really solid.
We added Riley Bevill in the middle of that, he got a start in Oregon and he got a start this weekend. In each of those two games he had a tough inning. Realistically those were innings caused by defensive problems. That still seems to be a little bit of our achilles' heel. I expected us to be a better defensive team than we were a year ago and I think we might.
Our defensive ballclub, last year and this year are about the same when you look at errors and things like that. I still think that as this defensive team matures a little bit, we made what some people may think of as an odd move on Sunday to move Ryan Aguayo from short to first and played Tyler Forney at shortstop but it gives me another defensive setup. Ty Forney is really an exciting, electric defender. He has great range. He made a couple errors this weekend but he's the type of guy that gets balls that other guys can't get to. His error totals might not be as representative as they are for somebody else just because he gets to more balls, he has more chances.
It actually benefitted us immediately. IPFW popped up twice to open the game and then hit a ball hard up the middle that looked like it was going to be a basehit and Forney dives for it and makes the play.
We're working on a couple new defensive alignments and we've got a couple more home weekends, non-conference that we can continue to some different with defensive setups. The move of Aguayo to first with Forney at short gives me what I think is my very best defensive lineup. I can take Voight and move him to short and have Snowley play third as a setup we haven't had yet and one we we'll look at this weekend. It'll give me a solid defensive setup but a really good offensive setup.
I'm pleased with the fact that the weekend gave us a chance to look at some things and kind of solve some of the problems we've had through the first 20 games.
bc.net: Your thoughts on the weekend overall?
RW: What IPFW did was go with their best guy on Friday and Sunday. They didn't necessarily concede the doubleheader but they went with their number two guy on day one and their number one guy on Sunday. That's not unusual for teams on the road. It's their best chance to try to get a win or two on the road. We did a great job in particularly on offense on Friday and Sunday against pretty good college pitchers. IPFW really played solid defense. They didn't make a lot of mistakes. Bobby Pierce is a former player of mine that coaches them. They did not have very good offensive talent but they were trained pretty well. They were pretty disciplined kids. He's trying to teach the same thing we're teaching, he just doesn't have the horses yet to implement everything that we're able to implement.
Overall I thought we played pretty good baseball. I was disappointed in the number of errors, a 12-error, four game weekend. You can't average three errors a game and expect to win big games. At the same time though we turned nine double plays, four in the first game and three in the second and double plays kind of counter your errors.
Overall I thought we got our offense back. We really struggled in Oregon. A bunch of guys were in slumps and we really don't have any guys in slumps anymore. Wes Starkes struggled a little bit but Aguayo had a good weekend, Hipp had a good weekend, Voight had a good weekend, Howard had a real good weekend. It was one of those where a lot of guys contributed and we feel like the offensive is doing well but more importantly, I thought that our at bats were better. They were more challenged, they were willing to pass up some pitches in order to get a better pitch. Our strikeouts were down. Overall it was just a pretty well played weekend. Our defense caused some issues but we played through those pretty well.
bc.net: What was it like for you as a head coach to have one of your former players come back with his own team and just seeing the things you learned from your dad and teach to your own ballclub being implemented in another team?
RW: I didn't know how I would really feel. I'm very close to Bobby Pierce and when you get into competition you have to let that go. I talked to Bobby the second day and I asked how things were going and he said, "I was nervous but after the first inning everything was fine." That's kind of the way things always work out. I was proud of him because he's kind of taking over a team that was very much like the team that I took over 15 years ago. There wasn't any tradition, there wasn't anything in place, there wasn't any history, there wasn't any system. He's trying to get it implemented and I talked to him for 20 minutes the second day and told him to hang in there. He's got some good kids. The center fielder is a really quality player. His infield is solid. I told him, "You've got some good kids, keep them hooked up. It's hard to do." He's not good enough to go on the road to beat a New Mexico State but when he gets into the Summit League, there will be a lot of people that are similar to them. I just gave him advice to keep them positive, they're in an infancy stage in the program and they'll be very important to every player that comes after them to continue to pass on the torch.
Overall, the experience was good. It is weird, you feel bad that you beat them four times but that's what you're supposed to do. And I think and he feels like that having brought his team here is a glimpse in to what he wants them to be able to do. In watching our offense operate against them, he thinks they'll gain a lot from that. It's a lot different perspective than any other team that's come in. They know where he came from and who trained him and all that.
It was a great to get a chance to see Bobby and how much he's progressed. It was fun and prideful.
bc.net: You talked about your team playing well and obviously you'll need to continue playing well heading into this weekend against Binghampton who is the four-time defending American East regular season champion. They're 4-9 to start the season but five of their nine losses have come against a pair of good clubs in VMI and Dallas Baptist. They'll be a stiffer test than most people might think.
RW: Yeah, definitely so. This is a northeast team that has traditionally traveled. They go out on the road and take their licks and win a few but when they head back into the American East, they won that league last year. This is a team that is coming off a league championship. They'll play hard, they have good people.
The schedule is kind of odd. They played Friday and Saturday at Dallas Baptist and Dallas Baptist is like BYU, they do not play on Sunday. So they played Monday, they play today at UNM, Wednesday at UNM and then Thursday, Friday and Saturday with us. I haven't delved into it a whole lot but I'm trying to figure out exactly how they're going to be lining up their pitching staff. That should be a little bit of an advantage to us that they won't be able to just go 1-2-3-4 in all likelihood. They will be a solid group of players. They've got a middle of the lineup guy that's got real good numbers that's hitting over .400 with some power. That's one thing IPFW didn't have was a power presence in the middle of the lineup.
When you look at opponents and how they line up against you, if the opponent has a quality shortstop, catcher, center fielder that can play defense and they have at least one guy in the middle of the lineup that can drive runs in and a couple decent starters and a guy that can close a game, then that's what you need, that's what everybody needs as a baseline to be competitive. Over a four-game set, all the other players impact that. The four-hole hitter, the three defenders and the three pitchers are the key component of how competitive they can be in a series. Can they come in and beat you three out of four, can they come in and split on the road which will be their goal coming in here? They have that capability. I'm looking forward to it.
I was disappointed with the way we played on the road at Oregon because those were opportunities to establish yourself on the road against very good baseball teams on the road. That's what you have to do. If we're going to win the league it's going to come down to the second to last weekend when we're on the road at Fresno who has clearly reestablished themselves as the dominant team in the league. Their RPI is number four in the country. That's what you're preparing yourself for.
Louisiana Tech started off really well, they've struggled of late but they've played a really good schedule and that's who we open up league with in two weeks on the road.
You're looking towards Binghamton as a team that's going to challenge you pretty good at home and help to prepare you for those games. I'm looking forward to it.
We have Northern Colorado coming in after that but they've always kind of been an achilles' heel for us. We always win the series but they always manage to get one game from us. That'll be an interesting weekend as well.
bc.net: What are some things that you'll be looking for from your team this weekend?
RW: Continued progress. I need to get Wes Starkes going again. He was really good in the first part of the season. He pulled a hamstring muscle the first game in Texas so we sat him down for those few days. He played in Oregon and the leg's healed but he just hasn't gotten his game back. He's really played good defense, he's had good at bats but he just isn't clicking. We need to get him going again.
Tanner Waite in the last three weeks has pushed his way into the starting lineup. He's a guy that in the fall was just kind of another guy. Not in a negative way, he was a good player but he wasn't doing enough to push his way into being a starter. But ever since he came back from the break he's getting better every day and he works as hard as anyone else in the field. He was moved into the 2-hole and he had a solid weekend, not a great weekend. He had three line drive outs to their center fielder. Their center fielder killed him. He hit some rockets and that guy just ran them down. He was really good.
I'm really waiting for another guy or two. Between Laing and Clark and Perkins. Perkins has had a really terrible start to the season. Kurt Snowley has gotten a lot of playing time. He's played well at times but at other times he's just been average but he's been valuable to us because he's a switch hitter and can play first or third. He's my utility guy and has served that role.
I've got 75 percent of my guys above .300, Wes Starkes just below .300 and then about five or six guys that are hitting under .200. Of those five guys I need two or three to get it right. I need those guys to start adding to the mix. We'll need them later on. Not just for potential injury replacements if injuries occur but guys that can come off the bench to hit. Guys that can spot start at the DH or spot start at their base positions in four game conference series.
Pressure that you carry in conference games and the value of each run and each out and each pitch are enhanced and are more meaningful and takes more energy. As a coach you can go play what you think is your best nine and leave the other guys sitting there rotting and waiting for other guys to fail or get hurt or you can continue to use your ballclub which is the way I coach my ballclub. I just have four or five stragglers that need to catch up with us. I think they'll be important. A couple guys getting themselves established in their roles over the next two weekends.