It was a tough year for Bryan Manoukian & Co. in 2013.
The Carson Senators went 14-19 overall, including a 7-15 record in league play. The only positive is that the team secured the last of eight playoff spots, and actually played well in the postseason despite going 0-2.
The good news is that Carson returns 10 players — pitcher-outfielder Chase Blueberg, pitcher-infielder Jace Zampirro, shortstop Gehrig Tucker, catcher Joe Birri, pitcher-infielder Chazz Nystrom, pitcher-outfielder Dustin Dutcher, pitcher-outfielder Danny Guthrie, utility player Dom Norton, pitcher-third baseman Brandon Allen and outfielder T.J. Thomsen.
“This is a senior-driven league,” Manoukian said. “If our seniors step up and lead, and play well, we should have a better season than we did last year. I think we’re going to be more competitive, but I don’t want to take anything for granted.
“We’re going to compete better. This group of seniors is driven. They want to have good senior seasons.”
Manoukian said that Reno and Galena are again the class of the league. He expects Manogue, Reed and Spanish Springs to be solid as usual. The Senators scrimmage Spanish Springs and Galena on Saturday, so Manoukian will get an early feeling about his team because Galena and Spanish Springs both are first-tier squads.
Pitching, as it always does at any level, will play a big factor in any success Carson may enjoy this year. All the returnees except for Birri and Thomsen threw last year. The staff is headed by Blueberg (4-5, 4.91) and Zampirro (4-3, 4.35). They are expected to be the top two pitchers.
Dutcher (1-0, 8.75), Norton (0-2, 42.00), Nystrom (1-0, 1.83), Tucker (0-0, 0.00), Guthrie (0-0, 11.05), Brandon Allen (0-1, 7.27) and newcomers Seamus Burns, John Holton, Joe Runge and Josiah Pongassi are expected to compete for innings. Pongassi missed last spring and summer with a knee injury, but he very well could be the team’s closer.
Blueberg had two huge wins a year ago, beating Damonte on the road and Reed in a game at Aces Ballpark.
“We do have a lot of arms, but we don’t have a lot of pitchers with big-game experience,” Manoukian said. “When I throw them out there they have to go out and get the job done.
“Blueberg has put on 15 pounds of muscle. His velocity has picked up. He’s worked very hard in the offseason. He’s developed an off-speed pitch to go with his fastball and curveball. Dutcher has improved and having Holton with us over the summer has helped. Very rarely do sophomores come in and dominate. He understands better what he needs to do.”
Catcher will be manned by either Birri or Ryan Pope. Birri hit .385 in six games with three RBI. Pope played JV ball last year, and was considered one of the best players on the team.
Zampirro (.296, 19 RBI) and Holton (up from JV) are at first base, while Pongassi and Norton (.293, 9 RBI) are battling for the starting job at second base. Tucker (.391, 15 RBI) starts at short and Allen, Holton and Nystrom (.308) are vying for time at third.
“Gehrig is a gamer. No doubt about that,” Manoukian said. “Gehrig is good enough to play anywhere on the field defensively. He’s very talented and very strong. I think he can play shortstop in college, but his best spot at the next level might be second base.
“I like Gehrig at lead-off. He has confidence with two strikes, he can steal a base and he doesn’t strike out very often (11 in 108 plate appearances).”
Thomsen (.264, HR, 9 RBI) leads the outfield group. Dutcher (.067), Blueberg (.245, 6 RBI), Norton, Runge, Connor Leahy and Burns also are in the mix. Blueberg started several games in right when he didn’t pitch. With Casey Wolfe graduated, Thomsen could be in center.
Carson hit just eight homers as a team last year and batted .294. Four of those homers were by Luke Maher, who is now playing at Colorado Northwestern. This Carson squad is a singles-doubles type of team. Carson needs to be disciplined at the plate.
“We need to move runners along, take the extra base, steal bases,” Manoukian said. “We need to be able to manufacture runs.”