bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the series with Louisiana Tech, you split the series 2-2. You've talked with your team about wanting to establish yourselves as a good road team, what's your assessment after the first weekend in WAC play?
Rocky Ward: We're just an average road team. We basically, we're 3-4 in road games and 1-2 in neutral games. To be under .500 on the road is not a terrible thing. It was a disappointing weekend. We play game one and get an outstanding performance out of Beck and kind of scratch out a win, get key basehits. Our offensive numbers weren't pretty so you feel good about it. Then you go get shut out in game two. Basically we were just absolutely pathetic offensively. We didn't challenge at all in that game. Then we follow it up with a good game in game three and another bad outing out of Riley Bevill but a great outing out of Tyler Mack. It kind of takes me back a little bit to last year on the road when Mack and Beck were our saviors. Those kids really pitched well on the road. Those two guys' outings helped us sweep Sacramento on the road. That's where they kind of broke in and said hey, we're trustworthy. So they've kind of established that.
We got a bad outing out of Trey Ross, his second one in a row after being really good and Dan Reid gets hit again. We were really bad offensively and their kid did a good job but we were just bad.
We only hit .211 on the weekend while they hit .330. Our ERA was 6.00 while theirs was 2.00 so you're thinking how did we win two games? We were just horrible. We were a JV team for two games is kind of the way it was. Sunday's game was different. We gave up a run in the first, then Dan got the game stabilized and then he takes a ball off of his glove hand off his wrist. He's gonna be okay. It hurts like heck. It's an impact that catchers have to take a lot when they block. It's why you see catchers with wristbands. He took a pretty good flush hit. It feels a lot better for him already than the injury last week where we didn't know going in.
The disappointing thing was we had a chance to win three out of four, you have your number one going because he had to get pushed back to Sunday to get the hand healed and then he gets knocked out of the game with a line drive and then the game fell apart at that time. The next pitch is a double in the gap and they go up 3-0 and then we can't get out of the inning before they go up 5-0 and it was a tough offensive yard. The wind was blowing in 20-25 mph every day, pretty much straight in from center. And it wasn't even so much that, it's not like we went out and hit a bunch of balls to the warning track that were outs. We just didn't handle it very well mentally and there were a lot of innings where we went down without much of a fight.
I'll be okay with the weekend after we do something good this weekend. We had a chance to get right in the middle of the mix. I think everybody figured on Hawai'i sweeping Sacramento State in Hawai'i. I thought that it was pretty likely that San Jose and Fresno would split even though Fresno's been the higher ranked guy and gotten more of the regional and national attention. I knew that San Jose was pretty darn good and I thought that they would split with them at home [in San Jose]. The only thing that didn't happen was we didn't win three out of four at LA Tech. I guess it's good that those expectations are there, that guys went in expecting to do that and so you're disappointed by the effort.
All the road games we've played have been in very difficult offensive yards and Louisiana Tech normally is not. Normally it's a pretty good ballpark to hit in. What happens when the wind blows in there are 25 to 30, a small park gets even smaller in terms of places for the ball to land. You can't hit it out. There was one home run hit in the series and that was Mark Threlkeld and he hit it right down the line, he hit it about 315 1/2 feet. He hit it to the smallest part of the ballpark and it barely got out.
I think they may have played the yard a little better than us. In the second game, the game we got shut out on Saturday, I look up and their outfield is really playing shallow and I think we gave up some hits in front of us that we shouldn't have. We should have had a little better outfield positioning. The difference between a 10 to 15 mph wind and 15 to 20, they made the adjustments better and it's their home field. They know where they need to play, they know how the ball is going to come off the bat in different wind conditions and I think they took away a couple hits from us while we gave up a couple to them and it gave them the momentum they needed.
bc.net: What adjustments will you make this week with your club as you prepare for San Jose State?
RW: Well you know we're back home and just because you don't play great on a weekend doesn't mean you panic and change a whole bunch of stuff. The one thing looking back to it that we didn't do very well, we bunted, we had four sacrifice bunts. So did they. It ended up being the key play in game three because Mark Threlkeld threw the bunt away and we ended up scoring a couple of runs and we ended up winning that one 7-5 and the game was tied at 4-4 at the time. We hit and ran a little bit and were successful and we've been successful when we've done it. I just don't really have a general belief that the hit and run in a long term win-win proposition. For each time you hit and run and have success, you have at least one or two other where a guy swings and misses and you get your guy thrown out or you swing at a bad pitch into an easy out. The next couple of days we're going to work a little bit more, not on the the sacrifice bunting game but the bunting game. I think the one weakness that LA Tech had was dealing with the bunt for a basehit. For all intents it cost them a game or at least the key momentum in the game. Williams, their first baseman, played deep the whole time and took a couple of balls out of the hole on us.
The bunt for a basehit is not a called thing. I can suggest it to guys, that's kind of the way I've always dealt with it. I guess guys don't feel very confident with it so the next couple of days we're going to spend some more time on the bunt for basehit. It's the small ball part of the game. Everybody thinks of small ball as being coach-driven, is he going to hit and run or not, is he going to steal or not, is he going to sacrifice bunt or not, but the aggressive part of small ball is you've got to be able to go take advantage, especially when the wind is blowing in. You've gotta go make people make plays. The bunt play is a difficult play to make, the bunt for a base hit.
I would bet that most of our guys in the lineup if all you allowed them to do in a normal defensive set is bunt for a base hit, I would bet that they would bunt for a higher average than their normal batting average. Obviously that's not a way to drive runs in but it's a way to avoid the double play, it's a way to get runners in scoring position. We need to do that a little more.
I think in this type of environment, high humidity, wind blowing in, we've got to be able to do it. So that's what we're going to do the next few days. I don't know that it'll be of great benefit for us this weekend against San Jose but one thing that is starting to become real clear is that teams that are scoring first are winning most of the time. With this bat it's more difficult to put together bigger innings.
We haven't blown any leads and we haven't come from behind with the exception of once or twice and I'm talking about after the fifth. We're 24-0 when we lead after the 6th inning, we're 0-8 when we trail after the sixth inning. Those statistics are not abnormal. You normal see teams where half of your losses are that way. You lose some games late, especially in college but we've been a team this season where if we trail after the sixth inning, it's over. It's been the one thing that's bothered me about our club. We haven't challenged people late in games very well and that's kind of a tradition that we have. We've always been a team that you just can't bring your closer in and it's over. We've beaten a lot of closers over the last several years.
We beat Zach Jones last year in San Jose in a late come-from-behind and that guy has been nothing short of spectacular. This year he's thrown 25 innings this year he's given up just 12 hits and struck out 40.
I think that last three inning comebacks are much harder to do now.
bc.net: You thoughts on the series this weekend with San Jose State, they're maybe one of the most overlooked programs in California this season but they have a series win over UCLA who was ranked in the Top 5 at the time and a four game series split with Fresno State who was ranked in the Top 10 last week when the two teams played.
RW: Yeah, with what they did with Fresno they're going to get a little love on that. They can really play defense. They lead the league in fielding percentage by a reasonably good margin, a .977 fielding percentage is pretty impressive. They've got a kid named Danny Stienstra who was real good two years ago, was kind of horrible a year ago, in fact he only played one game in the series last year and this year he's been tearing it up. He's hitting .378 with 12 doubles, no home runs. San Jose's only hit 11 and only given up 13. That gives you a pretty good idea of the type of ballpark that they're playing in when you look at team home runs and being over halfway through the schedule. They're on pace to hit 19 or 20.
They've got three or four guys that are threats in the middle of the lineup. Stienstra, Zach Jones and a new kid named Jacob Valdez and [Craig] Hertler who is a returning guy. They all have pretty good numbers, all above .300, some power, doubles-wise, nothing big, four or five doubles, mostly singles hitters.
Their big deal is their pitching. The guy I really thought might catch fire and have a great year is Blake McFarland. He's been pitching in their two hole. He hasn't had a great year but he's 4-1 with just under a 5.00 ERA. They've got a guy named Roberto Padilla who has a 2.47 ERA that has less hits than innings pitched and he's 6-2. Their 1-2 guys are pretty darn good. Their number three guy, Andy Hennessey is 1-3 on the year, he's the Sunday starter.
But they got a great outing out of a kid named Esteban Guzman who I think is going to throw on Saturday that's been a relief pitcher and Tuesday starter and he'll be a first or second game of a doubleheader starter once we get in league. He's got good numbers, 30 innings pitched, 34 hits, 35 strikeouts and only seven walks. Those are pretty good numbers.
San Jose is going to be quite a challenge the first two days. We're going to have to be really good as an offense, we're going to have to play solid defense. They don't have a big powerful team but they execute the game pretty well. If they get a man to second with nobody out, they'll move him over. They'll score runners from third and they'll do it a lot of different ways. They're not afraid to use the bunting game, bunt for a base hit and really put pressure on interior defenses to make plays. We have to be prepared for an aggressive slap and run type game. Their stolen base numbers are no different than ours, they're just average. They pick their spots. They hit and run a little bit in some spots.
I think they're going to try to go at us and take some risks with their running and bunting on the offensive side.
They have a team ERA of 3.92 and traditionally a team's earned run average, they normally pitch two or three points higher than their statistics when they come in here and so we'll see. We can't rely on that. We have to go out and be ready to play and be ready to win some low scoring games. That's something that has concerned me a little bit with our club.
If we go out and don't double/double/home or something like that and we don't break the opponent down with power, we have to find another way to do it. We've had some success throughout the year with the hit and run. We've probably called the hit and run about 20 times and half of those are foul balls and resets but we've had six or seven hit and run base hits that have helped us.
I think they'll be a good solid club. I think we have to match them in how well we play defense. They're not going to give you anything very easy. They're not going to make a whole lot of defensive mistakes to let you build innings, you're going to have to do it on your own through moving runners, executing the game and getting base hits.