bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the series with Nevada?
Rocky Ward: It was one of those weekends where not much of anything went right. We played poorly, Nevada played lights out and it was just one of those combinations that's part of the series history and I'm always concerned about Nevada, they always play us well. To do what they did, when you look at the numbers on paper, RPI, all the ranking systems, their statistics compared to ours, you're thinking this is a series we should win. It just wasn't. So all you can do with it from a coaching viewpoint is to chalk it up to two things. One, I had a right to be concerned about how good a road team we had been, which we have not been good at all in that area. What does that mean? Does it mean we're always going to be a bad one? No, it just means it's an area we have to focus on. We have to be more prepared when we go on the road and travel, better prepared to compete. It's not about what the general public might think, the kids not getting enough rest or not eating well, that's not the case with this club. From a standpoint of disciplinarily things and being at team breakfasts and stuff like that, this team has been good. It's just a weakness right now that we're showing in our ability to emotionally play well on the road when you're not in your comfort zone.
When you're experiencing it it's miserable. It wasn't a fun weekend for us, it wasn't a fun weekend for any of our fans. You can look at it a lot of different ways but we haven't as a ballclub learned to prepare to play well on the road. At the same time I was concerned about Nevada, not because of the history but because of how they've played of late. They got beat by Fresno in three games on the road to open league but they were all three pretty good baseball games. They were in all those games early. Fresno did what we couldn't do. They got to their bullpen. We just didn't get to their bullpen to the point where they used their closer twice in non save situations because they needed to get him to the mound. It was a combination of their starters doing a real good job and our offense really struggling to get anything moving. It kept us from getting to their bullpen. And again, we played another road series in fairly miserable conditions to play in. Now that's not excuse, both teams have to play in it.
Basically all of our weaknesses were exposed this weekend. They beat us on the mound almost predominantly with the fastball and the change. The big weakness that they have is that I didn't think any of their staff had real good breaking stuff. They really didn't use it, they didn't have to use it much. They went out and every time they had the chance, they basically threw strikes and pitched us backwards. They go out and get ahead in the count with the change and even with the breaking ball and use the fastball later in the count, kind of reverse of the normal "fastball for strikes, breaking ball to strike them out" kind of stuff. They did a real good job with it. As far as stuff goes, I didn't think any of their guys were overpowering. I just think they came into the series with a gameplan and we didn't do a real good job of adjusting. I think that more than anything has been our problem. Making adjustments on the road. It shouldn't be that big a difference but it has been.
The weekend exposed all of our weaknesses. Nevada played really good baseball and we could never get anything moving. Any time we had a threat, we didn't have success with runners in scoring position. We had opportunities in each of those games to break the seal and get moving and get some momentum and couldn't get that key hit. Nevada really didn't make many mistakes.
There are one of two ways to get momentum in a game. That's for you to go do something, hit a ball out of the yard, double into the gap or give me a seven or eight pitch walk, something that's positive in an effort to score. At the same time, on the pitching side have somebody go out and dominate for an inning or two. We just didn't do any of that stuff. The only other option, if you're not going to do it yourself, your opponent has to open that door for you and make a mistake. They just didn't do that. The only time that they made any mistake and showed any chink in their armor was in game four. We were playing in a pretty steady rain and they didn't make a couple defensive plays and we scored early. But we couldn't get it neutralized on the mound. Every time we did score this weekend they countered with twice as much. We just couldn't get to the top and we couldn't get any momentum. They flat out outplayed us.
bc.net: Looking back at this weekend and comparing it to the San Jose State series in 2009 when they came in to Las Cruces and really put it on the Aggies for the first three games, how closely did these two series mirror each other?
RW: It felt the same way. They're pretty similar. I felt like going into the Saturday game if we could get that game and get out of there at 6-6, you felt like it was pretty salvageable, it was acceptable, you could buy into it. We couldn't get that done. It was one of those weekends that I guess to a certain extent you have to eat it, you have to wear it, you have to use it as a building tool. You handle it one way or the other. You either let it destroy you or you let it make you stronger and we won't know that for a couple weeks.
What happened, you now the history of what happened with that San Jose State weekend, we survived it and got stronger because of it and went to the conference championship game that year and had to go through San Jose State [in the WAC tournament] to get there.
We have to kind of take the same path to get back. We have to try to reinvent ourselves a little bit. We have to forgive ourselves for the failure and the embarrassment and we have to approach the next several contests in a little different way.
bc.net: Wes Starkes had a good weekend, maybe one of the few bright spots on the weekend.
RW: Yeah he did. That was really important individually to Wes. He had had a bad weekend against LA Tech, he was pretty good last week, everybody was pretty good last week with San Jose State at home. It was important to him on a personal basis to play well on the road because he really hadn't. Everybody had a bad weekend when we went up to Oregon, Tanner Waite was the only one with a decent weekend, nobody had a real good weekend at LA Tech except Tyler Forney.
bc.net: Tanner Rust has played well in a pinch hit role for you, he's hitting .400 with a single, double, triple and a home run as well as drawing one walk.
RW: He's been doing great in that role. He's the only guy that's come off the bench and done anything to the point where I'll be trying to get him some real playing time. When a guy comes off the football field as a player and comes into a baseball team there are two things that are factors. He doesn't have his baseball body and mind under him. In Tanner's case he hadn't played baseball in a year and a half. We knew it would take him some time to get his timing down and get comfortable with the ballclub. He's starting to show that. We're still not completely comfortable with him as a defender, even though we're not afraid of him. But from the standpoint of putting him out there as the starting third baseman, he's not ready for that yet. But he's proven through his preparation and the at-bats he's gotten that he's ready to hit. He gives me another guy along with Tyler Owens who's had a couple pretty solid weekends in his at-bats.
I'll be looking to give Zac Voight a little time off and I might get Tanner Rust a start this weekend and give him a game where it's not just walking in and getting one at bat. Giving him a game that's his own and see how he deals with it and how he handles it. I have a feeling he'll handle it real well and it won't be whether or not he goes out and goes 3-for-4 or 0-for-4 or even whether or not he makes any great plays or not. It'll be how he handles it and how the ballclub plays with him. I think he's ready as a player to become a more significant part of this team and he's earned that right.
bc.net: What will you be looking for with this series at Seattle this weekend?
We've put ourselves in an odd position, a position of jeopardy. We're 5-7 in league and in 5th place. That's not where we had hoped to be. We had hoped to go to Nevada and at least split the series with the idea that we thought we were good enough to win it and come back home still in third place with the idea that we've got the two guys in front of us, Hawai'i and Fresno, still to play. Now we need to have a good weekend up in Seattle. We need to prove to ourselves as a team that we can play on the road.
Seattle is unique. They're just below .500. They've played a pretty good schedule. They'll have the advantage again of having played in these types of weather conditions. We have experience in those conditions but it hasn't been experience playing in those conditions with success. When you look at their statistics their team ERA is just over 4.00. Their pitching numbers are really good and they're kind of the type of ballclub that we've struggled with.
I'm looking forward to the challenge of the weekend and seeing how guys will respond to the disappointment of last weekend.
We've talked to the guy since we've been back and we've talked to them about the fact that we're at a turning point here. We can roll over and feel sorry for ourselves or we can go out and find a way to do things different next weekend and start developing some momentum going into the last three series of the year and the last two with Fresno and Hawai'i who at this point look like they'll be the top two guys. In two weeks I would not be surprised if those two are still the top two guys in the league.
We've talked about this before, sometimes failure, even one as big as this, even one as difficult to deal with as being swept in a conference series when you're within range of everybody, even that may be what this team might need to wake itself up and figure out how to pull together a little bit.