bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie baseball head coach Rocky Ward throughout the 2008 season as the Aggies open their third season in the WAC. This week Coach Ward recaps the last week's up and down performances and looks ahead at this week's games against CSU-Pueblo and Nevada.
bleedCrimson.net: Can talk about this last week, you had kind of an up and down strange week. You won 15-2 over UNM on Tuesday, then lost 13-1 to UNM on Wednesday, then you come back and win 12-2 on Friday against Texas-Pan American, then lose 10-3 on Saturday and then come back and win 24-5 yesterday.
Rocky Ward: Well that's kind of the essence of the week, it was inconsistent as can be. The good thing about it is really for this five game stretch we've shown our top side of what we're gonna be able to do offensively. We've also shown the weakness that we may have some down days. I don't really want to be a momentum offense, I want to be an offense that can build innings and finish them. I don't want to feel like the only way we score is if somebody hits a home run and gives you momentum. That's the only real concern I have is we kind of did that. When we got down a little bit, we couldn't get the offense moving when we needed to. Good quality offensive clubs, they may get your for three or four innings like Pan American did against us on Saturday where basically nobody scored through four, and we've still did a good job with their guy, we just couldn't get a key basehit. But when they scored all of the sudden the offense couldn't get moving. That's the only real concern with it. But you know you win 3 out of 5 and we're starting to feel like we win a couple more than we lose. Up until this little stretch we'd played on the bottom side of it a little bit. It's been a club that has done exactly that, we're 12-12 and we've played 12-12. We've played about 12 real good games and about 12 average games, average or bad depending on which ones you're talking about.
Overall to be honest I think the week was a pretty decent week for us. Did we reach the ultimate goals? No. But I think the guys are starting to think that we can do that. The schedule up until Pan Am was a pretty difficult schedule. It's ranked in the Top 50 in the strength of schedule on WarrenNolan.com and strength of schedule is one of those things like RPI it's based on what your opponents did. Pan Am was the first lower power rated club, it's the first one in the bottom 150. Everybody else had been in the Top 150 or Top 100. We did on Friday and Sunday what we should have done and Saturday you kind of wonder where things went. We didn't do either thing very good. We didn't pitch real well and didn't hit real well.
The overall feeling with the club is that we're getting better every day. Now we're gaining a little more confidence. Every time that Sturdevant and Goin went to the mound, they really pitched well. Vendette pitched well through four [innings] and then kind of lost it in the fifth and sixth.
bc.net: Sunday's game was televised on AggieVision and Fox Sports Arizona. Can you talk about being able to play a t.v. game and being able to go out and put up 24 runs?
RW: It was nice. We came within one home run of tying the school record for home runs [in a game]. Eight different guys hit home runs. A lot of neat things about that game. The biggest thing is we came off a bad beat. We got beat 10-3 in a game that we expected to win and then you've got a t.v. game and guys rose to the occasion. Teams can go one way or another and sometimes as a coach you're not sure which way they're gonna go. They can come into it really nervous because they didn't play real well the day before, they can come into it accepting the challenge with a motivation to show a bunch of people what we can do and that's the team that came.
We came out and got a really nice performance out of [Heath] Goin and he was probably the most important factor of everything. Just the confidence that guys have with him on the mound let's people relax and play.
It was a big deal. The production was nice. They did a really nice job in the production. Baseball isn't terribly easy to produce from the standpoint of t.v. It's hard to follow that little white ball. Overall it was really a clean piece. Not just the fact that we played well but the production came off really well.
I thought it was a pretty important win. We got to show the country on a national market. It was a good showcase for the kids and a good showcase for the program. I've had several calls from people that saw it. The production that we put out there is as good as any production that they're putting out in college baseball. It was very professionally done, I'm very satisfied with that.
bc.net: Can you talk about your pitching staff starting pitch better each time they go out and especially Heath Goin, he's had three or four real good outings in a row and it seems like each time he goes out your ballclub really rallies around him and produces a lot of runs.
RW: Yeah, we've done that for him but he's maintained control of the other side of the game. When you've got a guy on the mound that's getting people out and he's not doing it under a lot of pressure, in other words he's not doing it with bases loaded double plays and stuff like that. He hasn't been completely clean but of all the guys we've had he's had more 1-2-3 innings, three or four batter innings, than anybody else. He's the one guy that's been able to control momentum from the pitching side. [Tyler] Sturdevant did a good job of that in his last outing, [Sebastien] Vendette has done that a couple of times but Vendette, we haven't scored for early the last couple outings and so he's had to pitch under a little bit of scoreboard pressure and we haven't played real quality defense behind him. So, I still think that the kids that we're going to the mound with, I haven't even mentioned Webster who got the win and pitched very well on Tuesday. He's a guy that struggled early in the season and his last two or three outings have been good. One of those as a starter and a couple as a reliever and he'll be the starting pitcher tomorrow.
It's kind of a deal where we think we've got five or six kids who we really are starting to trust as starters. There's a couple of guys who have done good out of the bullpen for us. If we get good quality starts, the bullpen won't be terribly important for us because that's the style of play that we have. If we can get good five inning starts, if we get consistently five innings with two or three runs as the max, those five, most of the time we're going to put up five or six or seven in that stage. When you look at six innings, the average score of 6-3, if you look at most statistical analyses, the team leading in the fifth or sixth inning still wins around 90% of the time. So obviously it'll become more important as you face other good pitching staffs. You can't expect when we get into pitching staffs like Fresno and Hawai'i that both have good solid numbers, you can't expect to go out and score 12 against those guys. But, six is going to be good enough probably because of what they've done on the offensive side of the game. Hawai'i is only averaging four runs a game and Fresno's swung the bat a little bit better as of late but they're still only averaging 5 1/2. We're averaging 11.
bc.net: Can you talk about the two games coming up against CSU-Pueblo on Tuesday and Wednesday and what do you want to get out of these two games?
RW: They're non-Division I games which makes them on RPI, non-counting games. They don't help you in your computer rankings but they do add to the record.
What we're trying to do is we're trying to get a couple more guys to the mound. We're really trying to make final decisions on who's the 22nd through 26th guys on the travel squad. We have a very big active roster, somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 or 37 guys who have played in games. We're down to the point where we go on the road after these two games, we're cutting the squad down by 10 people. We're just trying to make final decisions as to what we need from our backup position players. Stout's down with a hamstring pull. He played on Saturday but kind of re-aggravated it a little bit so we'll just keep him down for the rest of the week. Tyler Hart's been down since the San Jose series with a strained ligament in his knee and we're going to use those two games to try to get him eight or 10 at bats and test him out and make sure he's going to be sound. Then Joseph Scaperotta's got a high quad pull. So we've got a couple guys with minor injuries and so we'll try to get some of those guys some rest and try to get a couple other guys some starts and get some guys some more at bats and see if we can make a couple kids who haven't played real well as of late, give them a second shot at getting themselves back in the mix.
bc.net: Can you talk a little bit about this weekend's series against Nevada, obviously a real important series for you, your first road conference series?
RW: This road trip's really interesting and one of the difficulties we've had is it's a tandem road trip. We go to Nevada and we go directly to Hawai'i from there. The two parks and the two ballclubs that we're going to play are both ends of the spectrum. Nevada's a big offensive ballclub, they average seven runs a game. They've got a kid on the club that's hitting hitting .500, a legitimate every day player hitting .500, then they've got a couple kids hitting .400. The middle of the lineup's probably as good as we're going to see in the league. Their pitching, they've got a couple kids that can throw, they don't have a real good bullpen. Nevada has a tendency to be a pretty good offensive yard.
Now weather may be a factor, I actually called John Smith who's the coach of Sacramento State, we were in the same conference together in the Big West when I first started coaching and he was kind of an old-time coach and I was this young pup and for some reason we kind of hit it off a little bit. I called to congratulate him on his four game sweep of Hawai'i this weekend, it was a big deal for his club. He mentioned that there's weather coming in through Sacramento and whatever comes through Sacramento hits Reno so there may be some weather issues that we haven't dealt with to this point.
Reno will be a pretty good test. The last time we were there was two years ago and that was the weekend that I lost [Luke] Hopkins to a hamstring pull. It was kind of the final straw for that season because we'd had so many injuries to that point when the nation's leader in home runs, when you lose him to a hamstring pull, when you look back at the season, that was kind of the end of when we had a shot of doing anything with that year. So there's a little bit of a bad taste from the last time we were there. It's a real nice park, it's a neat city to go to. This is basically a brand new ballclub, probably only a couple guys have been there. So we're looking forward to it. It won't surprise me at all if we end up with two or three pretty high scoring games with the offenses. We just hope we come out on the top side and maybe it'll be a real good quality test for the progress that this pitching staff has made.
When you flip over and go to Hawai'i, one of the deadest ballparks in the country, it's really difficult to hit home runs there. It's full astroturf, it's a very fast game. They have been a really bad offense. As a team they're hitting around .240 and that's hard to imagine with aluminum bats and college pitching.
They've got a couple of good quality arms and if we're going to do well in that series, we're going to have to win a couple of games 4-2. We'll do everything we can to prepare this ballclub to do it. The one weakness the ballpark in Hawai'i has is the ball does carry well from right center to the right field line. So left handed pull hitters, most balls that are hit by left handers up in between those two markers have a pretty good chance to go and I've got three or four guys that are like that. Scaperotta has the ability to do it, [Leo] Aguirre does, [Chris] Auten does, [Joe] Leghorn does, those are guys that should take advantage of the park. My right handed hitters are going to have to keep the ball out of the air a little bit more, hit more line drives. I've seen really high quality right handed hitters in Hawai'i hit balls hard out into the left-centerfield gap and the ball not even get to the wall.
The big challenge with Hawai'i will be we've got to be prepared defensively to be able to play a low scoring game. You never know what's going to happen, we've got to make them earn their basehits.
It'll be fun. Both of them are neat locations to go to, both of them are real nice facilities. Are they important games? Yeah they are. I like my club a lot better now in being able to handle those types of places and different types of games than I did a couple weeks ago.