Can anyone help me remember my pick for C-USA Pitcher of the Year? Thanks in advance.
In many ways this week was a microcosm of the Owls' 2010 season. The offense was otherwordly in two games (Houston, Marshall) and alternated between good and bad in two others (East Carolina, Southern Miss). The Owls' two-out hitting in the fifth inning on Saturday night was precisely what you wanted to see, but there were times when first-pitch swinging left you scratching your head. The OG has spoken repeatedly about batters having a plan before stepping to the plate, and on Saturday - like Wednesday - some Owls did, some didn't.
It's too easy to chastise the Owls for their failure to touch Southern Miss Sr. RHP Scott Copeland, for as The OG put it, plenty of teams have had struggles against Copeland.
"Two-days rest - guys used to do that all the time," The OG said of Copeland, who threw 106 pitches and eight shutout innings at Memphis on Wednesday before throwing 64 more in blanking the Owls in his first relief 2010 appearance. "I'd be surprised if he hadn't been good.
"He's 11-0 - a lot of folks have trouble with him. To beat him you really need about five lefthanded hitters to tell you the truth. He'll still pitch well, but you've got a much better shot if you've got a lefthanded-dominant (lineup) because his ball sinks into the righthanded hitters hard."
The fact is the Owls executed well against a quality righthander - Todd McInnis. Ten hits in 4-plus innings against a staff ace is sufficient, and if not for a couple of unfortunate bounces (the Mozingo automatic double and the Comerota 5-4-3 inning-ending double play) the Owls would have scored a lot more than four runs against McInnis. It's a capricious game at times.
So, let's not micromanage. As the Owls prepare to hit the road for the NCAA Tournament, let's reexamine what went right and what went wrong these past four days at Cougar Field:
The batting order. Granted, the Owls won't witness pitching as poor as they faced against East Carolina, UH and Marshall, but this lineup has proven that it can have success against quality pitchers. Even with a couple of wayward at-bats against the Golden Eagles, this lineup should feel confident that it can rake against most any staff come the NCAA Tournament. Perhaps the Owls can be exploited by another righthander with sinking stuff, but it's highly doubtful that another pitcher will no-hit them for four-plus innings like Copeland did Saturday.
The bullpen. Abel Gonzales isn't the first pitcher Southern Miss shortstop B.A. Vollmuth has taken yard, so that's nothing to really sweat. And while it would have been nice had J.T. Chargois not caught so much of the plate on that 0-2 pitch to Taylor Walker, all told the Owls' pen excelled this week: 12 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 10 K. Tip 'o' the cap to all six pitchers.
Jared Rogers. The OG said he continues to get better and better, and after Rogers twirled a five-hit shutout with a career-high eight strikeouts at Marshall, it's easy to take The OG at his word. If So. LHP Taylor Wall pitches like an ace next weekend, the Owls can comfortably state that they have three quality starters. If they can avoid the loser's bracket, they're good.
Jeremy Rathjen's mojo. Since boosting his average to a season-high .360 at UCF on April 17, Rathjen has lost 46 points on said average. He knocked in 42 runs in his first 31 games but has just 23 RBIs in the 22 games since. He has eight multi-RBI games during his slump, but he also has six hitless games. With Jr. SS Rick Hague on fire ahead of him and Anthony Rendon and Diego Seastrunk excelling in the two spots immediately behind, Rathjen is starting to draw the attention of opposing staffs. It was clear that Southern Miss pitched around Hague with two outs in the second in order to get to Rathjen, even to load the bases. The OG discussed dropping Rathjen down in the order recently but decided against it. He might need to reconsider that decision, at least until Rathjen gets his dangerous swing back.
The defense. Just when you want to believe that it's airtight, a booted double-play grounder here and a misplayed line drive there leave you thinking otherwise. The Owls are hitting the road for a regional due in large part to several dropped fly balls, and given the critical timing of the Owls' errors, it's difficult to feel overly comfortable with their defensive play in tight spots.
Consistency. The Owls just haven't shown it, even riding that proverbial roller coaster during games. That they can be so hot and cold at the plate and on the mound makes you wonder if they are even capable of the type of run necessary to reach Omaha without playing at home.
On Monday we'll all find out where the Owls will play next weekend. Feel free to post your predictions in this space, for several locales (Austin, Fort Worth, Norman) seem quite viable.