Weekend Preview: April 18-20

Meaningful
Matchup
Miami at Florida State

You know a series is big when coaches tell you as much. Forget about that “just another game” nonsense. This is Miami-Florida State. It’s long been one of the greatest rivalries in college baseball, and on top of that, this year’s clash is a battle for supremacy in the Atlantic Coast Conference, in the top 25 and in the race for the No. 1 national seed in the NCAA tournament. No. 1 Miami  brings a 31-3 overall record and a 15-1 conference mark into the weekend, while No. 3 Florida State is 33-3, 17-1.

“It’s always the biggest weekend of the year; anytime we play Miami at home it’s the biggest weekend,” Seminoles coach Mike Martin said. “Well, there’s no question that this is probably the biggest weekend in the last 20 years.”

That’s a strong statement, but Miami coach Jim Morris just about echoed that sentiment.

TOP 25
SCHEDULE
(1)
Miami at (3) Florida State
Oregon State at (2) Arizona
State
Boston
College at (4) North Carolina
UC Riverside at (5) UC
Irvine
(6)
Missouri at Oklahoma
Southern Illinois at (7) Wichita
State
Washington
at (8) California
Kansas at (9)
Nebraska
(10)
Stanford at UCLA
(24) East Carolina at (11)
Rice
St. Mary’s
at (12) San Diego
(13) Georgia at Louisiana
State
(16)
Mississippi at (14) South Carolina
(15) Cal State Fullerton at
Pacific
Auburn at
(17) Vanderbilt
(18) Oklahoma State at (20)
Texas
(19) Texas
A&M vs./at/at Baylor
(21) Michigan vs./at/at/vs. Michigan
State
UNC
Asheville at (22) Coastal Carolina
(23) Pepperdine at Loyola
Marymount
Florida
at (25) Kentucky

“It’s big in the ACC, it’s big on the national scene, and it’s a big interstate rival,” Morris said. “There’s no question, it’s a huge rivalry. Every game’s big, and it’s important for ranking-type things and NCAA-type stuff and seedings. It’s as big as you can get, really.”

So, it’s big. Got that?

The Hurricanes and Seminoles have been involved in some pretty gargantuan games over the years. Before Miami joined the ACC, the two teams used to play six times per year—three in Tallahassee and three in Miami. The ‘Canes beat the ‘Noles in the 1999 national championship game, and the ‘Noles beat the ‘Canes to advance to the 1986 title game.

But depending on who you ask, the 2008 versions might be the best Miami and Florida State teams ever.

“I was just looking at their numbers, and I don’t remember them having a better team, in gosh, many, many years,” Martin said of the Hurricanes. “That is a solid, solid baseball team. You look at their numbers, and that is scary stuff. And what they’ve been doing to teams in the league—they just demolished Georgia Tech, and I know how good they are. We were lucky to beat Georgia Tech. I’ll tell you right now, they are a legitimate No. 1 team.”

Morris stopped short of calling his club the best he’s had at Miami—after all, he’s won two national championships there and produced big leaguers like Pat Burrell, Ryan Braun and Aubrey Huff. This year’s Hurricanes are a little banged up, Morris said, but they’re finding ways to win. As for the Seminoles . . .

“I think they’re an outstanding club, they play well,” Morris said of the ‘Noles. “They have outstanding players, led by Buster Posey behind the plate. He’s a great guy, he takes control of the game, and the most important position is your catcher. They’re very solid defensively, they can swing the bat, and they do all the little things it takes to win. They’ve got a really good program, no question about that. This might be one of (Martin’s) best clubs, now.”

When told of Morris’ assessment, Martin was quick to disagree.

“No no, no no,” Martin said. “We’ve got an outstanding group of young men, it’s a good baseball team, but the jury’s still out. I love this baseball team, I’ll tell you that right now.”

On paper, this figures to be a very high-scoring series. Through Sunday, Florida State ranked second in the nation in batting (.352) and Miami ranked sixth (.343); FSU was third in scoring (9.8 runs per game) and Miami was eighth (9.5); Miami was eighth in home runs (53) and FSU was 11th (51). The pitching staffs have been solid as well—Miami ranks 16th in the nation in ERA (3.59) and FSU ranks 18th (3.62)—but both lack the kind of power arms to combat the power bats they will face this weekend. Then there’s the Dick Howser Stadium factor.

“We do have a ballpark that is conducive to hitting,” Martin said. “Miami traditionally plays well in Tallahassee. We traditionally play well in Miami. I remember one year Miami came up here and it was a huge weekend for me, so to speak. We needed one win for the thousandth win. Miami came in here and just literally said, ‘You ain’t going to get our name out there for that thousandth.’ And we didn’t: they came in here and swept us. They certainly have the ability to do the same thing again.”

In addition to being at home, the Seminoles have the advantage of being healthier than the Hurricanes, particularly on the mound. Miami ace lefthander Eric Erickson (5-0, 2.84) hasn’t pitched since March 21 against Wake Forest because of elbow soreness. He threw two bullpen sessions this week and is scheduled to start Sunday, but Morris said he’ll be limited to 50 pitches. Freshman lefty Chris Hernandez (5-0, 2.77) will continue to start in his place Friday, and senior righty Enrique Garcia (2-0, 5.56) goes Saturday. Righthander Jason Santana (3-0, 2.29), a valuable swingman, is out indefinitely with a rotator cuff injury, and the bullpen is missing righty Alex Koronis (1-1, 7.11) and lefty Iden Nazario (0-0, 0.84). Koronis is still working his way back from elbow surgery last year, while the power-armed Nazario has a sore back.

Still, Miami’s bullpen has been nearly as good as its star-studded lineup this year, thanks mostly to righthanders Carlos Gutierrez (2-1, 2.16 with eight saves and a 33-9 strikeout-walk ratio in 25 innings) and Kyle Bellamy (5-0, 0.62 with a 35-3 K-BB ratio in 29 innings). Gutierrez attacks hitters with an 88-92 mph fastball with the most sink Morris has seen since Kevin Brown pitched for him at Georgia Tech. Bellamy worked in the 84-85 mph range last year before pitching coach J.D. Arteaga suggested they drop his arm slot to sidearm. Since then, he’s actually gained velocity, working in the high 80s and touching 90 with good sink. That duo gives Miami plenty of reason for optimism.

“When you look back at our clubs, we went to the World Series 10 out of 14 years, and we always had a good setup man and closer,” Morris said. “I know some people disagree with this, but I’ll trade two starters for one closer. It’s very hard to close a game out. I’ve had a lot of great closers over the years. Carlos Gutierrez could be our No. 1 pitcher or our closer.”

Florida State’s No. 1 pitcher all year long has been sophomore lefthander Matt Fairel, who is the only pitcher in the nation other than Missouri’s Aaron Crow to start the season 8-0. The draft-eligible Fairel also leads the starters with a 2.38 ERA. Freshman righty Geoff Parker (3-1, 2.64) has emerged as a quality Saturday starter thanks to his poise and quality three-pitch mix, and power-armed righty Elih Villanueva (4-0, 3.33) has been consistent recently in the Sunday starter role. Posey has four saves on the year but hasn’t pitched for weeks, thanks in part to the rebirth of senior righthander Ryan Strauss (5-0, 4.34) as a dynamic midweek starter and weekend closer.

And while Miami struggles with injuries on the mound, Florida State is getting healthier, as highly touted freshman lefthander John Gast worked his way back from Tommy John surgery and made his season debut with a scoreless inning Wednesday against North Florida. Gast, who is already showing consistent low-90s velocity along with spotty secondary stuff, bolsters a strong bullpen that has also gotten a terrific season from junior righthander Jimmy Marshall (3-0, 2.36 in 27 innings).

“It’s a pitching staff that we’ve been very excited about as we’ve progressed through the year,” Martin said. “We just have to continue to get good pitching and play solid defense. But the offensive side, the numbers are a little bit staggering to me.”

The two offenses could put on a show this weekend, but don’t count out some strong pitching performances. After all, it takes more than just bats to go 31-3 or 33-3.

“To be where we’re at right now with our record,” Morris said, “a lot of guys have to be playing good.”

Marquee Mound Matchup

Tom Koehler vs. Joe Serafin

Two of the preseason favorites in the America East Conference—and the only two teams in the league with overall records above .500—will square off this weekend when Stony Brook visits Vermont for a four-game set. Friday’s series opener features two of the league’s best pitchers in Stony Brook’s Koehler, a senior righthander, and Vermont’s Serafin, a junior lefthander.

Koehler has always had good stuff, but his weight hurt his draft stock last year. He worked hard to trim down his 6-foot-3 frame in the offseason, and as a result his stuff is even better: his low-90s fastball reaches 94, his hard 82-83 mph slider has been an out pitch and he has done a good job keeping hitters off balance with his curveball and changeup. Through seven starts, Koehler is 4-2, 3.49 with 57 strikeouts and 19 walks in 49 innings.

“He’s in the best shape of his life,” Stony Brook coach Matt Senk said. “He’s done an incredible job getting into shape. He’s a very fit young man right now, and that’s helped him. He’s always had great stuff, but it’s that much sharper because he has lost considerable weight and gained strength.”

Serafin was one of the top lefties in the America East in 2006, going 5-3, 4.23, but he missed all of 2007 with a foot injury. He’s been healthy in 2008 and pitching very well, going 4-1, 2.32 with 25 strikeouts and 17 walks in 31 innings. Serafin is undersized at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, but he has a quick arm and a tenacious demeanor.

“He’s back to throwing the ball extremely well,” Senk said of Serafin. “It should be a great game if those two guys face each other. (Serafin) is a real competitor, and he does an excellent job of mixing pitches. He works quickly and really fills up the strike zone. He’s probably 86-88 with his fastball, with a good slider and changeup, and he really competes. He’s excellent.”

Upset City

UCLA over Stanford

It’s a measure of how topsy-turvy the Pacific-10 Conference has been in 2008 that it would be an upset for preseason No. 1 UCLA to beat preseason unranked Stanford. But the Cardinal has won 10 straight weekend series to climb to No. 10 in the rankings, while the Bruins have limped to an 18-14 start and fallen out of the top 25.

But UCLA has shown signs of life lately, sweeping an opponent for the first time this season over the weekend against UC Riverside. The Bruins got strong pitching performances in that set from lefthanders Tim Murphy (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) and Gavin Brooks (8 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K), suggesting that perhaps both are on the cusp of another second-half surge like the one that helped propel the Bruins to super-regionals a year ago. And UCLA got big weekends from a few of its key bats who had gotten off to slow starts, namely junior shortstop Brandon Crawford (8-for-17, 2 HR, 3B, 3 2B, 6 RBI, 6 R), junior third baseman Jermaine Curtis (7-for-15, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI, 7 R) and sophomore first baseman Casey Haerther (11-for-20, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 6 R).

The Cardinal finally won a couple of midweek games this week, downing Santa Clara and San Francisco. But now Stanford needs to make its second straight Pac-10 road trip, against a talented team that is beginning to discover itself. Cardinal junior lefthander Jeremy Bleich is expected to miss another start due to an elbow injury, one coach Mark Marquess said “isn’t serious, but as a precaution, he probably won’t be back for one or two more weeks.”

Under The Radar

New Mexico

Ray Birmingham doesn’t mince words. He knows where New Mexico’s program stood when he inherited it last summer, and he knows where it should be.

“I wouldn’t want to take over any other program but this one,” said Birmingham, a lifelong resident of New Mexico who coached New Mexico Junior College for 18 years before the Lobos hired him to replace retiring Rich Alday last summer. “It kind of underachieved, and we have the nicest Division I facility in the country out here (Isotopes Park). It won’t be long before this program gets to Omaha.”

Lofty talk for a program that hasn’t even reached regionals since 1962. But in his first year at the helm, Birmingham already has the Lobos poised to end the NCAA tournament drought. Even after dropping a pair of midweek games against Arizona, they’re 24-14 overall and 8-4 in the Mountain West Conference, tied with Texas Christian for second place, just a game behind San Diego State. And New Mexico already has won road series against both the Horned Frogs and the Aztecs.

“These kids are playing over their heads and competing,” Birmingham said. “They’ve played a tough schedule and risen above it.”

Birmingham’s tough talk has a lot to do with the turnaround. New Mexico’s pitching staff features a number of power arms who are starting to play up to their potential. Senior lefthander Bobby LaFromboise (4-2, 3.93 with 37 strikeouts in 37 innings) has run his fastball up to 93-94 with armside run and improved his secondary stuff, emerging as the club’s true ace. Senior righty Stephen Smith (3-1, 4.53) has reached 92 and flashed a very good slider. Junior righty Will Kerr (2-2, 3.86) reaches 92-93 and has excelled in a swing role, and closer Clinton Cox (1-0, 3.25, two saves) can reach 90 mph with good life. Senior lefty Jacob Norton (4-2, 6.07) competes as a weekend starter with a fastball that tops out around 85 mph. The X-factor is junior righty Willie Kesler (4-0, 1.90), who is working his way back from an emergency appendectomy three weeks ago. Kesler was outstanding in the Northwoods League last summer and can reach 94 with a very good breaking ball when healthy.

Collectively, the staff’s ERA is down from 5.86 a year ago to 5.15, and falling.

“I think attitude is everything with the pitchers,” Birmingham said. “Beforehand, when I came in here, they didn’t really know what you had to do to win. They were trying to win, don’t get me wrong, but I put them through some heavy exercises in attitude building, a lot of running and stuff like that. I felt like they were a fraternity with a baseball schedule—they just didn’t go about things as hard-nosed as I thought they could. It’s not easy to change attitude in two seconds; it takes time.”

The talented LaFromboise was the poster boy for that shift in mentality. LaFromboise complained of arm soreness earlier this season and missed two starts, but when he went to the doctor he got a clean bill of health. So Birmingham challenged him.

“He has a lot of ability, but he kind of big leagued it, and I don’t think he pushed himself as hard as he should,” Birmingham said. “I’m pretty demanding about what levels they should play at. What he thinks is good and what I think is good are two different things. He was on the shelf, and I challenged him in front of the team: ‘Hey, you’re letting your buddies down.’ And he stepped up. You have to tip your hat when a kid does that.”

Offensively, different Lobos have stepped up at different times, with junior first baseman Kevin Atkinson (.329 with eight homers and 32 RBIS) and junior outfielder Brian Cavazos-Galvez (.355 with eight homers and 32 RBIs) leading the way. Incidentally, both of those players starred for Birmingham at New Mexico JC before transferring to UNM. Most recently, Cavazos-Galvez  had the hot hand, slugging four home runs in Saturday’s 26-9 shellacking of Air Force.

“When you watch him take BP wherever we go, the other team stops and watches,” Birmingham said of Cavazos-Galvez, a former NJCAA batting champion. “At Texas Christian, everybody stopped and watched because he was hitting home runs opposite field up on the highway. At San Diego State, (coach Tony) Gwynn stopped and watched it. He’s a plus runner, a plus thrower, and he has plus bat speed. He jumps at the ball sometimes, so if he can relax and let it travel, he’ll be outstanding. Once he finds calmness at the plate, he’s got a chance to be extremely special.”

Thanks to a new attitude, good weather and a ballpark that Birmingham says compares favorably to Haymarket Park at Nebraska (where his son played collegiate ball), New Mexico’s program has a chance to be extremely special, too.

Streakin’
Zach Putnam, rhp/dh, Michigan

Last year, Putnam became the first player in Big Ten history to be named to the all-conference team as a pitcher and a hitter. Last week, he accomplished another two-way feat, becoming the first player to capture Big Ten player of the week and pitcher of the week honors in the same season since Northwestern’s Sloan Smith did it in 1993.

Putnam, the conference’s reigning co-player of the week with Indiana catcher Josh Phegley, is riding a nine-game hitting streak. He homered three times in Michigan’s four-game sweep of Illinois, becoming the first Wolverine since 2004 to drive in six runs in a game in the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader. He kept swinging a hot bat in two midweek wins against Eastern Michigan, going 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs in a 20-5 blowout on Wednesday. He’s now batting .336/.384/.560 with six homers and 36 RBIs on the season.

And oh yeah, Putnam also picked up the win on the mound Friday, improving to 3-0, 2.95 with 47 strikeouts and 12 walks in 37 innings this season. He’s helped the surging Wolverines win seven straight games and build a two-game lead over Purdue in the Big Ten standings heading into this weekend’s series against Michigan State.

Slumpin’
Clemson

The firsts keep on piling up for the Tigers. They have the program’s first 11-game losing streak, one that has dropped them to 18-19 overall and just 6-12 in the ACC. They lost a series at home to North Carolina for the first time ever last weekend, getting swept in the process, and lost all four games to rival South Carolina this year, the latest a 6-0 shutout at home Wednesday.

So when they visit Duke this weekend, only one victory separates them from the ninth-place Blue Devils (5-12) in the conference. The ACC tournament takes just the top eight teams in the league, not all 12, and the Tigers suddenly are on the brink of not even making their conference tournament.

Every part of the team has struggled, but Clemson’s offense has been mostly to blame of late, scoring just 34 runs over the 11-game losing skid. Duke’s pitching could help that number, as the Blue Devils have posted a 5.51 ERA in league play and have a league-low 81 strikeouts in 147 innings. Something’s gotta give—Tigers hitters have 153 strikeouts in 18 league games, tops in the ACC.

Stat of the Week
16

Years since a Division I independent other than Miami has made the NCAA tournament. The NCAA said it was 19, going back to 1989 (Nicholls State and Central Florida). But friend of BA—actually, more like Friend to College Baseball—Rick Rollins divined (correctly) that Cal State Northridge was an independent in 1992 when it received an at-large bid.

The coaching staff at Dallas Baptist knows none of that. But they bet their players have some idea.

“Our players might know because they’re all over the Internet, they know what we’re facing,” assistant coach Travis Wyckoff said Thursday, as the team prepared to leave for this weekend’s series at Memphis. “I don’t know that it would help any for us to think about it, though. It’s something you think about on nine-hour bus rides, I guess.

“I don’t mean to be cliché, but we have told our players that it’s completely out of our control. We just have to beat Memphis on Friday, that’s our next game. We can’t get hung up thinking about, ‘OK, we have 21 more games, if we win this many we’re in.’ We don’t control what gets us in or not. We control how we play and that’s all we can worry about.”

Dallas Baptist has a chance if it does its best at what it can control. The Patriots are 23-10 overall, 20-10 against Division I teams, and have 21 games remaining on the schedule (though they could add a pair). They have two victories against Rice and Sun Belt Conference leader Louisiana-Monroe, have split four games with Oral Roberts and two others with Baylor this week. They’ve also gone 0-2 against Oklahoma and TCU. Their entire schedule and win-loss record have added up to a No. 27 RPI ranking so far, according to boydsworld.com.

The Patriots have a decent enough schedule remaining that their RPI shouldn’t slide too far, keeping them in position to be considered for an at-large bid. Eighteen of their last 21 games come against six opponents—Memphis, Northern Colorado, Texas A&M and San Francisco (all on the road), Jacksonville (home) and Texas Tech (one road, two home). Memphis (152) has the lowest RPI of the group; Dallas Baptist actually has the highest, edging out Texas A&M (30).

To go on the road that often and continue to play well, Dallas Baptist must continue to show the balance it has to this point. While scouts like the Patriots’ weekend tandem of hard-throwing righthanders Victor Black and Jordan Meaker, they’ve combined to go just 4-4 this season. The team’s strength is its bullpen, anchored by freshman Chris Haney (5-2, 1.35) and closer Tyson Bagley (3-1, 2.74, 7 SV), as well as a deep lineup with no one player opponents can focus on to shut down. Of late, DBU’s hottest hitter has been first baseman Ryan Enos (.364, 11 SB), and while he lacks power, the Patriots have doubled up opponents in home runs 38-19.

Scouting Report
Charlotte

As usual, Charlotte is dominating the Atlantic-10 Conference, but the 49ers hit a speed bump last weekend against Xavier, losing two out of three to fall into second place (9-3) behind Duquesne (10-2). Charlotte traveled to North Carolina on Wednesday and pushed the No. 4 Tar Heels to 12 innings before falling 5-4. They’re 28-7 overall heading into this weekend’s trip to Massachusetts. Preseason A-10 player of the year Brad McElroy, a senior center fielder, has lived up to expectations, batting .401/.488/.641 with 16 steals, seven homers and 40 RBIs. The 49ers have also gotten fine seasons from senior catcher Chris Taylor (.367/.462/.676 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs), senior shortstop Shayne Moody (.338/.398/.422 with nine steals), junior third baseman Aaron Bray (.335/.432/.471 with three homers and 13 steals) and sophomore Rob Lyerly (.325/.399/.615 with seven homers and 37 RBIs), who transferred from Campbell. A coach whose team has played the 49ers broke them down.

“They could flat-out hit. We tried everybody, everything. They were so comfortable in the box. They were confident and talented. Offensively they’re just excellent. We didn’t do much against their starting pitching. I think their starting pitching is solid, but if they had a little notch above the starting pitching they do, they could play with anybody in the country. Defensively they’re excellent—their third baseman’s making Brooks Robinson plays, their center fielder is running balls down, their shortstop is a big athletic kid, he’s making straight-out diving catches, and they’ve got a freshman second baseman (Corey Shaylor) who can really defend.

“I don’t want to demean their pitching, because it was solid. Let’s put it this way, if they pitch the way they hit and play defense—I think if there’s one area where they’re a notch below what they do great, it might be their starting pitching. Because they do every other phase very well. Almost every player in their lineup, even their reserves, could run. They play with tremendous energy. I really like Charlotte.”

In The Dugout
Kyle Weiland, rhp, Notre Dame

Notre Dame heads into this weekend’s crucial Big East series at hot-hitting West Virginia riding the nation’s second-longest winning streak (10 games). A year ago, the Fighting Irish went 28-28, 11-15 and missed out on regionals for the first time since 1999. Now they sit atop the conference standings with a 10-2 mark, and they seem to have vanquished memories of their disappointing 2007 campaign. So has Weiland, Notre Dame’s junior closer, who went 5-3, 5.66 as a sophomore after falling and breaking his collarbone. He returned to form in the Cape Cod League, allowing only one run in his final 18 regular-season innings, and has carried that momentum over to this spring, going 2-0, 2.61 with six saves and 22 strikeouts in 21 innings. Weiland picked up the save Wednesday against Northern Illinois at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, in a game to benefit the February 14 Scholarship Foundation, honoring the victims of the Valentine’s Day shooting at NIU.

What was it like to play at U.S. Cellular Field?

That was an unbelievable experience, something everybody dreams about doing when they’re a little kid. To get that opportunity in a ballpark like U.S. Cellular was fun.

Did you get jitters going out to a major league mound in the ninth inning?

It wasn’t really jitters, more excitement. I was real amped up, ready to go.

Was it a rewarding experience to do something to help Northern Illinois after the tragedy they have endured?

Everything they went through, the least we could do was go out there and play them in front of their fans, family members and schoolmates. It was important for us to be able to do that.

So you guys have won 10 in a row now. Is this team playing with a lot of confidence right now?

That’s something that comes with winning 10 games in a row—you go in there thinking you can accomplish anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re losing in the seventh inning. We’ve had different guys in every different game coming through in clutch situations.


It must be nice to get off to such a good start after the way last season went. Did you guys use last year as motivation, or is it something you have just tried not to talk about?

I think it’s definitely something that our whole team has a chip on our shoulders about. It was rough. There were a lot of different things that contributed to that—it was a transitional season. It was definitely a motivational tool, we wanted to go out and make sure we don’t have another season like that. It was a long time since Notre Dame didn’t play for the Big East championship before last year. Especially the seniors, we didn’t want to leave them not feeling like they finished what they wanted to. We want to give the seniors what they deserve after all they’ve given to the program.

One of your seniors, Brett Lilley, recently broke an NCAA all-time record. Do you guys give him a hard time about being the hit-by-pitch king?

We’ve always kind of laughed at him, because every time he’s in the box, his natural instinct is to get hit by the ball, whereas everyone else’s is to try to get out of the way. For example, (Wednesday) there was a high and inside pitch that he was trying to lean into, whereas a lot of guys would have ducked.

You’re now back into the closer’s role, which you were so good in as a freshman before you split time last year as a closer and starter. Is this the role you’re most comfortable with?

I’m comfortable with closing, especially because freshman year I got so many opportunities in the closing role. Right now it’s a really good fit for our team. We’ve got three great starters who have really proven themselves and are keeping us close in ballgames. In the back half, our bullpen has kept with them.

Is this as well as you’ve thrown in your college career? Is your stuff back to what it was before your collarbone injury, or is it even better?

After coming back from the injury and struggling through last year trying to recover, this summer was when I started to get back to feeling better than before. Right now I feel like I’m at the peak of where I’ve been. I have a fastball, a spike curveball and a changeup. My fastball is the pitch I go to in the toughest situations. I have confidence in all three of them, I’ll throw them in any count. I definitely will go to the fastball over anything—if the game’s on the line, second and third, two outs, I’ll definitely go fastball. Freshman year I was right around 90-92, and right now with the exception of a couple games I’ve been right around 93-94. I was topping out at 95 yesterday. It definitely has increased. It probably has a little more to do with my body developing a little, because freshman year I was a little guy.

How did you break your collarbone, anyway?

The elements of South Bend, Indiana, got to me. I was running back to my room and hit some ice, black ice on the road. It wasn’t a hard fall, just a real awkward fall on my right side. I guess it doesn’t take much to break a collarbone. That’s probably the most pain I’ve felt in my life.

I understand you were a nationally ranked youth swimmer who excelled in the 50-meter butterfly.

That was when I was 12 years old. I only swam for three years. I saw some success, competed in a couple of national swimming meets, but I didn’t enjoy swimming like I did baseball. It was a lot of work for a little amount of time in competition. I love being on the field every day in baseball, practice is fun for me.

Your sister, Crystal, swam in college, right?

She swam for the University of New Mexico for her first two years. She got burnt out, she’s been swimming since she was eight. You’ve got to be real tough to continue with that sport, it’s the most demanding sport I’ve ever played. She’s now just focused on finishing her degree.

So which one of you is the best athlete in the family?

I might have to say my mom. She’s where we both got a lot of athleticism. My dad’s where we got our size, but my mom’s where we got our athleticism. She was a runner in high school. She still swims three or four times a week in the morning, like 4 o’clock, and she’s thinking of competing in triathlons, the whole deal.

College | #2008 #Weekend Preview

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