Pre-Preseason: Week 1

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In the Land of No Excuses, a steady rain offers no deterrent. There are tasks to complete, schedules to keep and players to evaluate, so when the skies open and precipitation falls, the Owls merely move indoors and continue the process of preparing for their opener at Stanford.

The Owls were set to shift from individual workouts to team-wide participation on Friday, but the rain-soaked surface at The Reck prevented the squad from taking ground balls. The Owls were not slowed from their appointed duties in the batting cage or in the bullpen, however, and in the final analysis the staff was able to prepare full reports on every healthy player present.

With this squad health is key. The three veterans recovering from offseason ankle surgery - Jr. RF Chad Mozingo, RS So. LF Michael Fuda, and So. 3B Anthony Rendon - looked well, with Fuda in particular appearing far more comfortable than he did in the fall. Fuda could ill-afford to miss the time he lost following his surgery last summer, and while he was available to hit during fall ball, it was clear that his surgically-repaired ankle hampered his ability to drive the ball. That no longer appears to be a problem for Fuda, so continued development is expected.

Sr. 1B Jimmy Comerota (knee) is also moving with superior fluidity compared to last fall. The lone position player to report with the slightest of an issue was J.T. Chargois (illness), and he will be back to full speed in a couple of weeks. By that point the Owls will be well on their way to making up ground on their defensive skills, a process that this veteran team takes seriously.

"These guys know what they need to do," Owls assistant coach Mike Taylor said.

Of the 19 pitchers who reported ready for work, Owls assistant coach David Pierce estimates that three-fourths returned in prime condition. Fr. RHPs Chase McDowell and Tyler Spurlin were particularly impressive in their two bullpen sessions this week because both embraced what Pierce and The OG suggested they work on over the break. McDowell exhibited improved body control through his delivery while Spulin was mentally focused on every pitch.

During one session Spurlin repeatedly located his pitches in an ideal spot - mid-thigh down. After arriving with two breaking balls last summer and throwing both his curve and slider during fall ball, Spurlin was asked to combine the two pitches. Thus far the results have been positive, with his curve showcasing the depth of a slider. If Spurlin and McDowell continue to develop their command, both will earn a spot on the staff. For all command equals opportunity.

"If they make good pitches, they're going to pitch," Pierce said of the open competition.

It certainly doesn't hurt having Jeff Niemann around and showcasing the work ethic required to pitch in the big leagues. While lauding the workmanlike mentality of So. RHP Matthew Reckling (who has recovered from his bout with tendinitis and pitched without issue this week), Pierce noted the influence Niemann can have on the pitchers. They don't have to look far or long to witness Niemann working on his own to improve his body in advance of spring training (the Tampa Bay Rays report on Feb. 18), and considering that Niemann earned the honor or 2009 AL Rookie of the Year (he was robbed!!!), his influence on the club is welcome.

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Keep it coming, MK! Call me crazy, but I still say that if Matthew Reckling is healthy, he's going to be a big time contributor in 2010; especially given the experience gained last season-- whether as a mid-week starter or out of the bullpen. I just love his nasty fastball - curveball combo. While it's true that this pitching staff is largely unproven (save for Taylor Wall), there is no question the talent and depth is there, and the competition for roles and playing time is going to be fierce.

Will Diego's bat return to form this year?

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