There was one significant upset in the top 25 in Tuesday’s midweek action, as Sam Houston State scored two runs in the ninth to beat Rice 13-12. Closer Bryan Price took the loss for the Owls, his second loss in six appearances, though he has a 2.08 ERA and 11 strikeouts in nine innings. Price has always had good stuff, but his emergence in the fall and spring allowed Rice to move lefthander Cole St.Clair from the closer role to the weekend rotation. The key for Price was abandoning his four-seam fastball, which he struggled to control, in favor of a two-seamer that he throws in the 90-94 mph range and keeps down in the zone.
"The guy that needs to be the guy out of our bullpen is Price," Owls coach Wayne Graham said two weeks ago. "He’s had intrasquads where he never threw a pitch under 90 in four innings, and he’s got a definite power breaking pitch that is 79-84. He’s got a chance to be a real good gun out of the bullpen."
With the stamina he showed in longer stints during the fall and a quality changeup, Price could likely handle a starting role if the closing experiment doesn’t work out. And Graham said it was entirely possible St.Clair could wind up back in the bullpen once he returned to full strength. This situation is worth keeping an eye on, but the good thing for the Owls is they have so many quality arms to choose from, and it will be hard for them to go wrong.
On to the first mailbag of the year–I apologize for being lax on these so far in 2008. I’ll try to start answering one mailbag question per week starting today; to submit a question for the mailbag, send your question, name and hometown to email@example.com.
I’ve always heard West Coast Schools are so much more advanced at picking opposing players’ and coaches’ signs during a game over the schools in the Midwest, Southeast and East Coast. I’ve heard that the West Coast schools have just been doing it a lot longer and it’s a relatively new process (within the past five to 10 years) for these other schools. Have you heard that to be true? If so, is there enough infusion of West Coach coaches in other programs around to country to have evened it out?
Santa Clara, Calif.
There was a lot of grumbling in San Diego this weekend that San Diego State had stolen USD’s signs the previous weekend, when the Aztecs blitzed Torero pitching for 44 runs in four games. The theory goes that a third-base coach would decipher the pitch by the way the pitcher gripped the ball before his windup, then signal to the hitter using a predetermined code; for instance, the coach might say "Let’s go," for a breaking ball, and "Come on," for a fastball. San Diego State, of course, said all of this was hogwash and that its hitters were simply having success with an aggressive approach. I tend to think that the simplest explanation is often the most likely.
Still, there’s no doubt that sign stealing goes on–it’s been a part of baseball for as long as there have been signs. George Horton likes to recount that he got his first job on the Cal State Fullerton coaching staff because of his sign-stealing ability, and when he was at Southern California, Mike Gillespie had Rob Klein as one of his assistant coaches. Klein was a former player and a fine fungo hitter who did some video work for the team, among other duties, but mostly the L.A. County sheriff’s deputy was the first-base coach and chief sign stealer. West Coast baseball is more small-ball oriented, with more bunt defenses, hit-and-run plays and other strategies employed more consistently than elsewhere in the country. Those all require signs–hence, more sign stealing.
However, I did run across something like this on the East Coast last week. As I described in last week’s Three Strikes, South Carolina had figured out how to learn what was coming from East Carolina righthander T.J. Hose, less sign-stealing than picking pitches. But then Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner is anything but a West Coast guy.
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