bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on Cody Edwards' weekend. He was named the WAC Hitter of the Week, hit for the cycle and drove in 11 runs in the second game of the doubleheader on Saturday against Sacred Heart, a 23-11 victory.
Rocky Ward: Cody's a new player and it takes a little while for guys to get indoctrinated into our system and what we ask them to do. In essence what we ask hitters to do is hit home runs and hit for batting average and get on base, we ask them to do all of it and over the years have had a lot of success with it and it just takes guys a little while to get going. He had an average weekend against Wake and was just okay through the Rice series, had a hit or two but he had his breakout day that you hope everybody gets a chance to have. I remember Zach Voight last year, he was a good player and just kind of moving along and we were just waiting for him to have that game and he hit a game winning home run and that's kind of the way I feel about Cody. Not only did he put up insane numbers but he proved to himself on the playing field what he can do and it's always nice when they get recognized by the league.
bc.net: Hitting for the cycle doesn't happen very often, for a batter is it the ultimate dream scenario to hit for the cycle and that fourth hit be a grand slam home run?
RW: Yeah, that's icing on the cake. Hitting for the cycle is so difficult because the triple for most players is difficult to get. There are certain number of guys that just can't do it. His was a pretty legitimate triple meaning that they [Sacred Heart] handled the ball pretty well. A lot of times triples are because it bounced funny off the wall or things like that. Finishing off with the grand slam, to be honest I had no idea until they announced it that he'd hit for the cycle. It was one of those games where we got hit in the mouth early in the game and the game was in jeopardy and we didn't pitch very well. You come back and you're fighting and fighting and his triple was a big hit that got us back in the middle of the game and the grand slam was just kind of icing on the cake and it was absolutely crushed. It was way out of there.
The two things as a hitter that most players would like to do in their life but most won't get to is hitting for the cycle, two is hitting three home runs in a game. They're hard to do not just because of the actual action, to do it, but most of the time when hitters come to the plate they won't pitch to them. Maybe hitting three home runs in a game is harder than hitting for the cycle because obviously the pitching staff knows. When you're hitting for the cycle most of the time the opponents don't know that he's done it until it's announced or if guys are keeping charts or the kids are really paying close attention to the game. It's a pretty neat deal. There's only two that I know of that have done it for us.
bc.net: Maybe even more importantly than the weekend that Cody Edwards has was the fact that you got Zac Fisher going, he finished the weekend 10-for-15 with eight RBIs.
RW: Yeah. It was kind of hard to nominate the player of the week and realistically probably the reason that we did was because Zac had gotten a lot of attention and Cody is a new name that deserves the recognition. Zac is currently on an eight at-bat hitting streak. The last ten plate appearances he's had eight hits and two walks. It will carry on into the game against Minnesota.
It was really important because Zac's your four-hole hitter and he's hitting .150 through six games and was struggling. To get him up and moving and to get his numbers to where he's not embarrassed by them I think was important going into the weekend. Even veteran players get into times where they have doubt and even veteran players have funks and you hate it when guys open the season with them because there's no basis to work from. If you have a slump in the middle of the season there are enough games that you've played that year that you played well that you can kind of go back emotionally and attach to them. There's nothing to attach to, last year is last year, it's too long ago to do that. It's the way baseball works, there's ebbs and flows and if you look at it the right way, for every bad streak you have you're going to have the alter-ego to it, the good streak. That's kind of where Zac is. He came in hitting into the weekend hitting .150 and he's now hitting .368. Through six games he was hitting .150 and now he's hitting .368, you forget about those first six. It was important to him and very much important to the ball club that their middle of the lineup guy is going. The one thing that made it a little bit easier for Zac emotionally was he had a big home run against Wake Forest in game one in a game that the final score ended up 5-3, his home run got our scoring started. He had a little bit to hang his hat on.
I'm happy with the fact that we got a lot of guys going. Robert Lecount had a good weekend. He's still not as clean as he will be later in the year but he's still leading the club in home runs. When he gets it, he gets it. He's got good power. We're starting to develop into the offensive club that I'd envisioned. Obviously a year ago we led the nation in batting average but we were way down in home runs, 40th or 50th, somewhere in that range which was unusual for us. I suspected that this ball club had more team power across the board and we're starting to show that capability.
bc.net: You got some good pitching from Michael Ormseth, Casey Collins and Ryan Beck, three good outings in situations where you're scoring a lot of runs and sometimes it's hard to go out there and not give up a lot of runs.
RW: Yeah that's true. We got good outings and I think Michael needed it because he got a bad break against Wake Forest where we played bad defense for him in the Sunday game which he gutted out and eventually got the win but it was one of those five inning, six-run deals. At the end of the day you look up and you got the win but your ERA is 10.00. It was important to Michael to have a good clean outing and fix his numbers up a little bit so his ERA instead of being 10.00 is 4.80 or something like that and one more good outing will put him in the 3.00 range. If you can pitch in college baseball under a 4.00 ERA then you're doing something that only the top 10 percent can do, at least in the leagues that we play in.
Casey pitched well and of course Beck has been nothing short of just being dominant and it is harder to keep your statistics when you have big run leads because your defense, you play the infield back, the defense is going to play deep, you play prevent defense when you have a big lead so most of the time you give up some cheap stuff and they didn't.
Sacred Heart had a pretty good offensive club. They had some people that could hurt you with power, they showed that to us in game two of the doubleheader. They went out and hit us in the mouth with ten runs in the first two innings and I don't know very many ball clubs that can survive ten runs in the first two innings against anybody and still win, I know we're probably the only one that can win by run-rule after that happens.
Sacred Heart didn't play real well. They swung the bats well, played solid defense, they made a couple defensive mistakes as you'd expect. They really didn't pitch well. They didn't have as good of arms as I thought they'd have. Normally when you face an east coast team they're generally teams that are smaller kids, they're kind of bunt, hit-and-run, small-ball type offensive with good defensive teams and generally they have a guy or two on the mound that can really get you. They just didn't. The guys they sent to the mound were decent college pitchers but none of them were overpowering and in each case, every game, each of their starters had a period of time where they had trouble throwing strikes and if you do that with us, you're going to build innings for us and we're going to go get a ball into the gap or a ball out of the yard and we're going to have a big inning and we had a lot of them. Obviously a 19-run inning, we scored 15 before they got an out. I think we hit into the double-play in that inning too.
I talked to the club today and really the difference, the Wake Forest pitching staff was better, they had better arms but the real difference was that they threw more strikes. The difference in that series was we walked 15 more times than they did. When you look at the offensive statistics they were about the same but we win three out of four because our guys walked fewer than their guys. I think when we played the Rice games on Tuesday and Wednesday, we drew our share of walks but they were on pitches that were close. We had to earn them, foul a pitch or two off. Sacred Heart just seemed to have an inning where their pitcher just lost command and wasn't even close. If that's the case then disciplined offense are just going to wait until he throws you a strike. Let him tighten the noose so to speak. Our fans get a little frustrated with us sometimes because they want us to swing the bat but the thing you know about the walk is that there's no defense against it. You can take a pitch and swing at a pitch and hit it perfectly but hit it right at 'em and it turn into an out. Walks don't work that way. There's no way to mess it up. If the guy's not going to throw strikes all you have to do is get four out of the zone and you're there.
bc.net: The 19-run inning that you had is the highest-scoring inning on record, you've had a 15-run inning and a 16-run inning. What did you see from your club that you liked as far as them understanding what was going on, understanding the situation and understanding how to keep the inning going.
RW: It happened pretty quickly actually. Last year we scored 15 twice in an inning and got scored on 15 times in an inning and all of those were almost an hour. This one seemed to get done quickly. I don't know how many walks there were in the inning but I know that's what started it. The guy had command problems and then as a result of not being able to throw strikes, he got himself in trouble and then had to throw to the center of the plate and guys just did a good job and didn't get greedy. I think that's the difference. Most teams when they've scored two or three and they're in the middle of a rally they usually shoot themselves in the foot because they get too aggressive and swing at bad pitches trying to be the next guy to get a hit. Our guys, it's part of the maturity of the team and it's also part of what we teach, a guy may walk a couple and you may get a couple base hits and score a couple runs but you can't get crazy at a hitter and start swinging at bad stuff just because you think you have momentum and that's what most teams do. They stop it themselves. That's one thing that didn't happen. Guys went to the plate, there were walks and hits smattered throughout the whole thing and guys did a good job at-bat by at-bat and we did the same thing in the Sunday game, we had a six run inning and a seven run inning. This club is disciplined enough not to get silly when they've already got it done. After the bubble has been broke and a guy's gotten a base hit and you've scored a couple runs, you can't get greedy, you have to stay focused and my guys are doing a real good job of that.
bc.net: Going back to the two games against Rice, what did your team take away from those two losses in terms of lessons learned?
RW: I think that they'll eventually look back at it, or maybe it's me, I'll look back at it as a couple of games that'll help prepare us for the level of competition that you've gotta face to win a championship. At this point I think most of us are still disappointed with how we played defensively in game one. We went out and swung the bat and Tyler Mack pitched adequately, he had pretty good stuff and we just made some defensive mistakes, some of which were not in the box score, they had us with only two errors and there were four or five plays that should have been made that weren't made. Rice is very, very good. They've got power I did not expect. I've always thought of them as a bunt, hit-and-run type of team but they've got a couple middle of the lineup guys that can flat out hit and that makes them a national contender to go along with their pitching staff.
They're quality of pitching, even in their down-line staff, the kid they threw against us Wednesday, a year ago he didn't have very good numbers or he didn't pitch much but he walks out and is 91-92 mph with a dominant, plus slider. He was a number one guy for anybody in the WAC and again they've got a Friday night guy that's supposed to be a first round draft pick that in a midweek game we wouldn't have seen and we didn't see but we did see their closer and his first pitch was 97 mph and that's not something that you see anywhere very often, in particular college baseball, that's getting it up there big time. There's just no reaction time.
We're disappointed that we lost two there but at the same time it'll give us a little bit better idea the next time we face a Top 10 opponent, which we have a couple other opportunities to do with Baylor and Arizona and Texas Tech, we're going to face some other opponents, I think next time we'll be a little more confident, we'll be a little more secure in the fact that we're good enough to play with those guys.
bc.net: This week you head out to Minneapolis, play two against Minnesota, one against Nebraska and one against Nebraska.
RW: It'll be interesting. I'm excited about going up there and playing in the Metrodome, I think it'll be an experience, I never got to have as a player, I would have loved to have been able to go up there and play there.
None of the opponents will be overwhelming, they'll all be very good, solid teams and none of them have opened up, they're all .500 type records. It'll be interesting. The two games against Minnesota aren't neutral site but you get two games where there's not any home field advantage and it'll be a good test. I'm very pleased that we're sitting at 7-3 going in. If I'd planned it out I think that would have been an acceptable start to the season but again you keep thinking ahead about what you need to do to stay on track by the time you get to conference to be confident enough that you have chance to play through conference and win the league because that's the ultimate goal. It's just another test this weekend.
I know that we're really comfortable with what we've gotten out of each of our pitchers. All of them with the exception of Beck have had good outings and average outings and so we kind of feel like we know what the best case scenario and worst case scenario is with each guy and as you get comfortable, not so much as a coach but the players playing behind the pitcher get comfortable in what they're doing. A year ago with Ryan Beck, he won 10 games but he did it with a 6.50 ERA so the earned run average wasn't real good but what you knew about him was he may walk a guy and give up a couple hits but he wasn't ever going to let a game blow up in his face. He wasn't going to all of the sudden walk a guy or give up five hits in a row, that type of deal. Even if he walked a guy or he got in a little trouble, you had confidence that he was going to make a good pitch against a good hitter and maybe get a double play or give up one run instead of three. We're starting to develop that same sort of confidence with the other guys as well and that's maybe the most exciting part about it. We know that we can pitch better than we have ever been able to. If we can play good solid defense, error free or mistake free and let our offense do what it does, we have a chance to beat anybody at any place at any time.
To go back to the question about Rice, that's what we proved to ourselves. We would have won that game against an outstanding team if we had played clean defense. We are good enough in other aspects of the game to win. It's just another proving ground at this point, get up there and play good solid baseball. It won't surprise me if we go up there and win four. This club has the ability to go do that.
My only concern is that in the previous three years we were a pretty good road team and last year got a little frustrating because we didn't play good on the road and that's something we always hung our hat on so I'm anxious, at this point we've played two road games against what I think will eventually be one of the top two or three teams in the country, those are our only two losses but I think it's important we go up there, play well and bring home some wins. It would be great to come back home with at least a minimum .500 road record and then you'd feel like that's a good basis to move forward because that's what you have to do to win the league. You have to go win on the road. You can't just win at home. I want that feeling that we had for two or three years here where we were a good road team, I want that back. I think every program and every team kind of has to earn that for themselves and this is kind of that start.
bc.net: Last week we talked about setting goals for the team, maybe not after each week of play but the first weekend the goal was to win three out of four against a good Wake Forest team, this weekend the goal maybe internally was to win four games which you did. Outside of going out and getting some road wins, what are some other goals that the players have set for themselves?
RW: Going into the deal our goal was to win three out of four the first two home weekends and split with Rice. We would have been very happy with that. We almost did that, the game we gave up to Rice we got back against Sacred Heart so we ended up with the same record. I think more than anything, if you want to talk about goals, not so much the end result, more than just numbers, more than anything our goal this weekend will be to play good defense. Go up there and play good quality defense. We played errorless in game one against Sacred Heart but the next couple we made errors in each game, none of them were as noticeable because we had such big leads but that's still an issue with this club that we need to gain a little more confidence that when we need to go play an error-free game that we can go play an error-free game, that we're good enough to focus on that. Maybe spend a little more emotional energy on the defensive side, not talking about pitchers, I'm talking about the position players, spend a little more intensity on the defensive side of the game and give our pitching staff just a little bit better support than what we've given them to this point. It gets old to make a mistake and give up a couple cheap runs because you don't make the routine plays. Obviously the history of New Mexico State has been that we can come back and get it back with the bats. I think more than anything the transition of this program from being what it is which is a very good mid-major program, to one that can win championships, has to include that component. They have to be able to go play quality defense when they need to go play it.