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What Might Happen Next

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I know this much is true: Jr. SS Rick Hague will not play shortstop in the foreseeable future. He worked out in left field on Wednesday, but chances are good that he will serve as the Owls' designated hitter until another course of action is selected. The supplanting of Hague at short is not necessarily permanent, but it very well could be. The entire situation remains fluid.

Let's set the dominoes. Sr. 1B Jimmy Comerota will replace Hague at short. Comerota, of course, is a capable defensive replacement - he is SAK after all - for he manned short at Hightower High and played nearly flawless defense there during fall ball. He is an above-average Division I shortstop defensively, and his bat hasn't been anything to sneeze at of late.

The Owls conduced a closed practice on Wednesday while auditioning for a replacement for Comerota at first. Jr. Abel Gonzales spelled Comerota when Hague was benched at Memphis, but there is some concern that asking Gonzales to play defense for an extended period will undermine his terrific contributions out of the bullpen. Gonzales has been the Owls' most reliable and capable reliever, so perhaps it serves the team best to allow him to remain focused on that role. Perhaps Gonzales plays first base Friday, but beyond that who knows.

Fr. IF/RHP J.T. Chargois is a talented fielder. He served as the backup to Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree last fall and would have filled that role this spring had he not returned from the holiday break with an illness. His athletic gifts are undeniable, and he is a capable hitter, but his level of proficiency at first is a concern. Chargois might be a viable candidate in the distant future, but asking him to step in for a key series against East Carolina is asking a bit much.

Fr. IF/RHP Tyler Spurlin played a ton of first base during the offseason, but again, asking a true freshman with limited experience to start against the Pirates with first place in Conference USA on the line is a daunting request. That fact makes So. C Craig Manuel a particularly intriguing option. He is reliable, has good hands, provides a steady lefthanded bat and, better still, is wholly committed to the task. When the workout concluded on Wednesday, Manuel remained behind and extended his session. His range is not ideal, but he knows the defensive schemes inside and out. If one seeks dependability and competence, Manuel is your man.

With Hague at DH, one of three outfielders will see his playing time slashed. The Owls had been rotating Michael Fuda (.336/.417/.473) and Jeremy Rathjen (.336/.391/.607) at LF/DH while Rathjen also platooned with Sr. Steven Sultzbaugh (.281/.333/.377) in center. All three are righthanded hitters, so overall productivity could be the determining factor for who sits.

Hague (.290/.351/.471 w/6 homers and 25 RBIs) will remain a part of the offense, and in due time may ultimately reclaim his position. Internally everyone is rooting for Hague, who in three games this season played defense described as ' high major-league' caliber at short. While the first obligation remains with the team, there is a delicate balancing act of trying to help Hague regain his swagger. Approaching this problem clinically is the current course of action.

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3 Comments

Thanks for the news MK. Also the post-game recaps have been excellent. Great, and much appreciated, work.

What an unfortunate situation for the Owls. Has Hague been ruled out as an option at first? Will his move to DH mean that Diego catches everyday now?

I agree with leaving Abe in the pen, let's not sacrifice any strengths to fill in these holes, and Abe's done a wonderful job on the hill this season. I'd prefer to see them give Spurlin the opportunity, and just hope that he can handle the situation, and doesn't perform about as well as Peterson and DeBiasse did in their moments last season. I have confidence they'll figure it out.

This is a big weekend against a dangerous ECU team. Hope the guys can find that right mix of focus and fun, and come out with a strong performance.

At Ease: Not to get all emotional on you, but I am watching practice as I type and it really saddens me seeing Hague in left. He's a shortstop and he belongs at short, but The OG has no real choice in this matter. As for Hague playing first, let's just say that all sides agreed that left field is a better option at this point. From what I learned, Hague's move to DH will cost an outfielder (presumably Sultzbaugh) some PT and will have no impact on the platoon at backstop. Now if Manuel fills in at first, then it's safe to assume that GDG will assume more responsibilities at catcher. - MK

MK -- regarding your reply above, is GDG fully healthy now (oblique strain, heel strain)?
What a terrible situation for Rick, I'm sure the season has turned into a nightnarish disappointment for him. But, as you say, the OG has no choice.

owl-1983: Yep, GDG is fine. I would bet that everyone is looking forward to the break as to recharge their batters, put what is past behind them, and prepare for the final dozen games of the regular season. It has been an interesting couple of months. - MK

All I can say is trust in the OG.

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