Starting pitching a concern for young, talented Pack baseball team
RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack baseball headed out for its first practice of the season Monday afternoon at sunny Peccole Park with a lot of new faces and some old faces in new places.
“We’re going to be a young team,” smiled Wolf Pack senior Matt Bowman. “But I’m impressed with the new guys. Talent-wise, we’ll be as good as we’ve been since I’ve been here.”
The first practice of the season featured 14 players who were not with the program a year ago. Bowman, though, will be one of the old faces in a new place this season. The Dayton High graduate is moving from the outfield back to the infield at second base, replacing three-year starter David Ciarlo.
“That’s his natural position,” Pack coach Gary Powers said of Bowman. “That’s where he’s best suited to play.”
Bowman, who hit .355 last year with four homers and 36 RBI, is clearly not afraid of change. The 5-foot-8, 175-pounder played the bulk of last season in left field and has also played second, third and right field since joining the Pack in 2005.
“He’s such a good athlete,” said Powers, now in his 27th season as Pack coach and just five career victories shy of 800. “He could play wherever we ask him to play.”
Bowman is ready for the switch.
“I feel very fortunate to have played second this summer in the Cape Cod League,” Bowman said. “I got to play about 40 games over there and that really helped me get ready for this season.”
The move of Bowman to second means that the Wolf Pack is in search of an entirely new starting outfield this year. Leadoff hitter Jason Sadoian, who hit .336 in center field, and Mike Hale, who hit .304 in right, were seniors a year ago.
The three outfield spots will be filled by a combination of newcomers Brett Hart, Nick Melino, Westley Moss and returners Aaron Henry and Waylen Sing Chow. Henry, a Carson High grad, got just eight at-bats (with two hits) a year ago as a junior.
“Aaron Henry has really improved and is showing us that he can help us this year,” Powers said.
Shaun Kort, who hit .324 last year, will start for the third consecutive year at first and Kevin Rodland (.256 in 2008) is back for his second year at shortstop. The Pack, though, needs to find a replacement for third baseman Jason Rodriguez, who hit .390 with 62 RBI as a senior last year.
“Tyson Jaquez is going to get the first shot over there,” Powers said.
Jaquez, who played for Western Nevada College in 2006, hit a team-high nine homers last year while sharing the starting catcher role with Travis Simas. He also started 10 games at third for the Pack in 2007.
“He’s earned the opportunity,” said Powers of Jaquez’s switch to third.
Simas and Matt Langenfeld are back behind the plate and will compete with newcomer Michael Turay, a freshman from Davis, Calif., for playing time.
Despite the loss of productive offensive players like Ciarlo, Sadoian, Hale, Rodriguez and designated hitter Terry Walsh (.270 last year), Powers has confidence in the Pack’s offense.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” Powers said. “We’re going to be a good defensive team and we’ll be able to score runs.”
The pitching staff is a different story right now. Gone are veteran starters Kyle Howe and Rod Scurry, who combined for 14 victories last year. Also gone, among others, are veteran pitchers Mario Rivera and Dan Eastham.
“Our starting rotation is our biggest question mark,” Powers said.
“We have a lot of guys who can fill those roles,” Pack pitching coach Stan Stolte said. “We have a lot of confidence in the ability of our guys. But they just haven’t done it yet at this level on a consistent basis.”
The Pack does return seven pitchers from last year’s staff. Five of those veterans — Stephen Bautista, Derek Achelpohl, Chris Garcia, Bryan Suarez and Brock Stassi, Powers said, are competing for a starting role. The other two returners, Mat Keplinger and Sammy Miller, will come out of the bullpen again.
The Pack will also feature four newcomers with area roots this year in freshman Jacob Anderson (Galena High), sophomore Tony Fagan (Carson High) and juniors Jesse Rasner (Carson and Wooster High) and Dan Tinlin (South Tahoe High).
“We are just going to see where everybody fits in best,” Stolte said.
“Our pitching staff is going to be a work in progress,” Powers said.
The Wolf Pack finished 34-26 last year and came within two victories over Fresno State on the final day of the Western Athletic Conference tournament of returning to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2000. Fresno State went on to win the College World Series.
“That showed that anything is possible,” said Bowman of Fresno State’s national title. “We beat those guys four times last year.”
The Pack will open the season Feb. 20 in Phoenix in a day-night doubleheader against Gonzaga and Missouri. The home opener will be March 6 against Washington at Peccole Park.
“I’m excited about this team,” Bowman said. “We always have the hitting. But, like any year, if we get consistent pitching and we back our pitchers up with defense, we’ll be OK.”