Friday, February 19, 2010
Baseball season begins today
By Pedro Moura
For USC, that is.
The Trojans open up their 2010 season with a three-game series with Cal Poly that begins today in San Luis Obispo.
On the mound for USC tonight is sophomore right-hander Andrew Triggs, who earned Pac-10 Honorable Mention honors a year ago after a recording a 3.95 ERA in 10 starts. Triggs had several dominating starts in 2009 before struggling a bit late in conference play. He'll be relied upon by head coach Chad Kreuter as the Friday starter week-in and week-out.
From the looks of things (read: from the mind of Kreuter) it appears there will be less lineup turnover on this year's team. Last season, he altered his starting nine on almost a daily basis. This season, he says more positions will be set in stone — or something a little closer to it.
And, he's got more leadership, he says.
"We have a conglomerate of leaders," said Kreuter, in his fourth-year as the program's head coach. "We have a variety of guys ready to lead us on and off the field."
One of those Kreuter spotlighted is senior Mike O'Neill, who will start everyday in center field and hit leadoff. Filling out the outfield, sophomore Alex Sherrod will play right, and Garret Houts, Alex Glenn, and Brandon Garcia will share left field after Kreuter's intended starter, transfer Mike Greco, broke his hand this week in intrasquads.
The infield will see marquee hitter Ricky Oropesa at first base, in all likelihood hitting third. Joe De Pintowill start regularly, primarily at second base, and could hit near the top of the order. The shortstop will be juco transfer Taylor Wrenn, the subject of a miraculous recovery from mononucleosis, bronchitis, and a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics used to treat those viruses.
The process cost him 17 pounds and "almost cost him his life," Kreuter said.
"He's gonna get the nod to go on Friday," Kreuter added. "'He's not at full strength right now, but he's getting up there, obviously,"
At catcher will be a combination of senior Keith Castilloand sophomore Kevin Roundtree. Think of Castilloas the hit-first, field-second player; Roundtree's the opposite.
Kreuter said he'll start Castillo this weekend.
"We feel he's gonna swing the bat and give us good defense behind the plate," Kreuter said. "The ability to catch the balls of a couple of our guys is the question mark."
A likely problem with the USC batting order, Kreuter admits, is the lack of protection for Oropesa. The coach was counting on Greco to hit cleanup and back up Oropesa, but he'll now resort to a sort of makeshift middle of the order.
"One of the things we can do with Ricky — if teams do start pitching around him — we'll move him up in the lineup, maybe even lead him off," Kreuter said. "And you don't want to pitch around the lead-off hitter."
Kreuter mentioned the case of former Trojan catcher Jeff Clement, who hit first in his junior season at USC to rave reviews. "Plus you get an extra at-bat every game," Kreuter noted.
Behind Triggs in the rotation are sophomore Chad Smith and senior Kevin Couture, both right handers. They combined to make 13 starts last season. Smith posted a 3.40 ERA; Couture's was a middling 5.66, but he bounced back to record a 3.86 in Cape Cod play last summer.
"The first three guys out of the chute are gonna be real strong starters," Kreuter said.
The bullpen will be a rag-tag mix of pitchers — typical for college baseball. But the anchors will be two transfers, Brett Williams and Shuhei Fujiya.
Williams posted a remarkable 1.97 ERA at an area junior college last season. Fujiya saved nine games for Northern Iowa with a 3.97
Kreuter expects Fujiya to be his closer but wouldn't confirm it Thursday.
"Right now I'd say the probability is really high that he would be," he said. "But we might just go with the hot hand."
First pitch comes at 6 p.m. tonight, assuming rain doesn't play a factor in the start time.
Notes: Cal Poly has had six winning seasons in the last seven years and made the NCAA Regionals in 2009, but USC leads the all-time series with the Mustangs by a 17-4 margin...Glenn, a freshman, posted on Twitter just before 1 p.m. "Game @ 6 vs Cal Poly. LETS GET IT!"...Greg Zebrack, an outfielder who started USC's season opener a year ago as a true freshman, was cut from the team during the fall. Also not returning from the 2009 season is third baseman Billy Pinkerton, among others.