bleedCrimson.net: What a crazy weekend, kind of an "old bat" weekend where you never really felt like any lead was safe.
Rocky Ward: San Jose's offense was pretty solid. They moved the ball and the scoring conditions were good on the last day, they were not necessarily on the first two. We didn't have any wind at all on Friday and Saturday and our park plays really really big when there's not any wind. We hit some balls pretty hard in both of those games that stayed in the park. They had the one home run and that guy really crushed it. Overall it was pretty good baseball.
bc.net: Let's talk about some of the numbers from this weekend, you win the series against a very good San Jose State team and you trailed 19 1/2 out of the 32 innings that were played.
RW: Yeah. That's what made it good baseball I guess. We've had two odd stat weekends the past two weeks in the fact that you look at LA Tech's series statistics, we should have gotten killed. They had a 2.00 ERA and we had a 6.00. We hit .200 and they hit something like .320 and yet we split. The same thing with this one. We trailed a lot of the game but won three out of four. I guess it means we're finding a way to win.
bc.net: You hadn't been real pleased with your offense last weekend at Louisiana Tech, you come back home and face a really good pitching staff in San Jose State and your ballclub hits .426 and scored 48 runs.
RW: Yeah, we're really good at home. I'm still concerned about how good we're going to be on the road and that's pretty important with three road series left and only two at home. I keep going back to the fact that the three ballparks we played at were really difficult offensive yards. We're starting to come together. We had a little bit of the same that that happened to us a year ago when we lost Mike Sodders and Ben Harty, it kind of brought them together a little bit. With Parker being out this past weekend and probably for the Reno weekend as well, along with losing a couple guys on the mound, guys kind of pulled together a little bit and overall the ballclub has played better together. We want Parker back as soon as possible obviously but the kids, in particular game one, you're facing Padilla who is one of the best pitchers in the league, and you give Tyler Owens his first start and he has the key base hit to get us moving in the game. Ty Forney obviously had a great weekend overall and is the Hitter of the Week and Kurt Snowley had a couple key hits in the game.
Everyone wanted to talk about Ty Forney's play, he made a great play late in the first game on a dive that shut down a rally for them and people kept talking about Ty at second base but I've always liked Ty at second base better it's just that I've got Parker Hipp there and Parker is one of the best second basemen in the country. Ty has a lot of flexibility to play both second and short and so I wasn't uncomfortable at all with him in the move to second. Zach Voight played solid baseball at shortstop. Snow had an okay weekend but the one thing you overlook sometimes not only as fans but as coaches is that when you have a guy that's playing a game or two a week and suddenly you ask him to play all four, it's tough on him physically and mentally and I thought he fought through it pretty well.
bc.net: The first game, they have a 2-0 lead and heading into the bottom of the fifth you get the one run to cut the lead to 2-1 and then you get the five in the bottom of the sixth to take the lead, we've talked a lot about your team not having won after trailing in the sixth, that's about as close to a come from behind victory after six as you've had.
RW: We're 27-0 when we lead after six and like 0-9 when we trail after six and when you look at the statistics of most of the programs out there, they're pretty close to the same. it's more difficult to come back any time, we've done it a couple times coming from deep behind, not just this weekend but the Northern Colorado 10-0 come from behind but we did that pretty early in the game and we knew they had very little pitching left, the San Jose comeback [Sunday] was different.
Game one, the big blow was the new guy, the guy who's getting his first start of the year in Tyler Owen, doubling in the gap to get us the one run, to get us off the snide and get us moving. It was a well played game and guys went to work on a pretty darn good pitcher. It's not about the number of base hits or number of doubles or number of home runs as it is about how difficult each hitter makes it on the pitcher to get them out. You want really tough at bats. A six, or seven or eight pitch strikeout is sometimes more valuable to a team than a first pitch ground ball base hit and sometimes it's more valuable than a leadoff home run. It puts a pitcher under pressure and keeps him under pressure and it just takes more energy physically and mentally to perform to his top level. We really did a nice job against the Padilla kid.
bc.net: In the first game on Saturday you get the four runs in the bottom of the first inning and are probably feeling pretty good with a 4-0 lead, especially in a seven inning game, then they come right back and score five in the top of the second.
RW: We were concerned about Dan Reid for two reasons. One, for two consecutive weekends he'd been hit with the comebacker, which he got hit in that game too but he didn't get knocked out. So you're worried a little bit about him mentally but I was also worried because he's one of those guys that works really hard in between his starts physically in prepping himself for each start and he was really limited in what he could do in his physical and mental preparation because he was in the healing process. I think it hurt him a little bit. He didn't have real good stuff and we didn't play real good defense behind him but it's one of those team building type things. You go out and hit them in the mouth and get the game in control but then you give it back to them. It's really hard to get off the floor. It's kind of like knocking a guy down in a boxing match and the guy coming back and knocking you out. You have all the momentum and then you lose it because you made the mistake. But we were able to get off the canvas and come back and get it tied pretty quickly. Of all the games, they didn't perform particularly well in that game. McFarland beat us last year at San Jose and I thought he was one of the big candidates to start the year as a preseason Pitcher of the Year and he really hasn't had a very good year to this point. But he was 3-1, he had one of the higher ERAs of their starters. He wasn't the same as what he was a year ago. A year ago he was like Tyler Mack with a real good breaking ball, a 90+ mph arm and a pretty good ability to control all three pitches. He really struggled to throw the breaking ball for strikes, it wasn't as sharp as it was a year ago. When we got him out, they've got a whole bunch of kids in the bullpen with good numbers and once we got back tied and got the game neutralized, once we got momentum they couldn't stop us and it ends up being blowout type win.
bc.net: The second game of the doubleheader, SJSU gets out to a 7-0 lead and you eventually lose 7-3 but you talked about it in the postage of that game and the postage of the Sunday game that you were really pleased with the way your team performed and battled in the late stages of that game and you actually had the tying run to the plate in the same inning that you scored your three runs.
RW: That kid really did a good job against us and I told the guys in the fifth or sixth inning, "We're down 7-0, this is one of the better pitching staffs in the country but we have to do everything we possible can to get Zach Jones to the mound. We had to get him to the mound. We've got to get Guzman out. He's really good, I understand he's really good but we've got to have great at bats, we've got to put him under pressure. We've got to get him to the stretch. He's not quite as good from the stretch as he is from the windup and we've got to force San Jose's hand." We were able to do that in the seventh and we got Zach Jones to the mound. He's a dominant guy, one of the most dominant closers in the league, 30 innings, only given up 12 or 13 hits, crazy numbers, tons of strikeouts. But it was important for the team to understand that the game wasn't so much about winning it, even though we had an opportunity to, it was about making sure we used their best guys so that we would be in a position the next day to win the series. Obviously it turned out that way because Jones, after going 2 1/2 of close against us on Saturday, you figured he'd only be available for a one inning close on Sunday.
As it turned out we played about as bad as we could in those first three innings on Sunday, a bunch of errors, they killed us with the stolen base, guys got in scoring position, it just didn't look good going into the third inning but we were able to stabilize and stay with it. But because they didn't have a long close, they had to stay with their guy. Andy Hennessey, he was okay, I thought Sam hooked him pretty early, but his numbers had not been very good and Sam is really good at managing his pitching staff and he had guys with good numbers in the pen. The big 15 run inning was amazing because of when it happened, we had played poorly, we were behind significantly, and we know the guys they're bringing out of the bullpen have sub 3.00 ERAs. Once they got the lead, SJSU did everything they could. He just kept rolling guys out there and we just kept staying on top of them. I was really really pleased with what the guys did. The 15 run inning was just amazing but to do it against that pitching staff, knowing the whole time that we probably had to get to the top before the seventh inning because Zach Jones is sitting down there and he just doesn't fail. I still thought we had a little bit of a psychological advantage. I don't know how many blown saves he had last year but it couldn't have been more than one or two and one was against us in San Jose. We beat Zach Jones and so you kind of hold that in your mind that you have some history against the guy. Whether it's in his mind or not it's a subconscious advantage. The thing about it is that we never gave them a chance to get to him. The 15 run inning was just nuts. Guys went out and gave me great at bats and made it really difficult on every guy.
It was an example of a team that really truly understood what I was seeing as a coach and that's not something you always get and understanding that they had three or four guys left in the bullpen that were pretty good and that we were a little weak on the mound, we didn't have much left. Riley Bevill's outing was really important to us, for him to come out and stabilize things, he ended up with 2 2/3 woof one hit baseball and that was just as important at the 15 runs. As the day went on, it started with winds from 5 to 10 mph and by the end of the day they were 15 to 20 mph and it really became a pretty good offensive ballpark late in the game. The guys understood that we had the momentum and once we got to the top with Zach's grand slam, that still wasn't going to be enough. We were only in the fourth and we had a lot of baseball to play with a short bullpen. We knew we had Coffman available to us for a couple innings if we needed him and we were short enough from the pen, we brought him in the seventh to make sure it stayed under the run rule. You just never know. I've played in that park on days when the humidity is under 10 percent and the wind is blowing out at 15 to 20 mph, everybody could have a little power. It may not be home run power as much as it used to be but it makes the outfield play pretty deep and the double becomes a factor for every hitter that comes to the plate.
It was a heck of a way to close it out and the team really understanding what they needed to do. It was a growth game for us. I thought game three, as I said sometimes strikeouts are the most important part of the game, over somebody's base hit, I thought the team's overall understanding of what we had to do in the second game on Saturday in order to help ensure a Sunday win, that's a lot of growth for a team. For these kids to have a little bit of an idea and start to take responsibility and accountability and not look to the coaching staff all the time to remind them of all the little things that are important in winning baseball games.
bc.net: I thought a key sequence in the Sunday game came in the top half of the fourth inning right before you scored the 15 runs. Zach Jones led off with a double, got moved over to third and with a runner on third with one out, you kept him from scoring to add to their lead after you had just scored three runs in the bottom of the third.
RW: Yeah it was. We needed to have something positive happen from the mound for us. We just had to. We had to have somebody step up and give us a good inning or two and that's what we got. That's kind of what we were trying to get done in the second game of the doubleheader on Saturday but they went out and they scored one run four times in that game. We just couldn't get a zero up when we had to get a zero up. The big advantage of playing at home besides the home crowd is if you get them out and they don't score in an inning you feel like you have two innings to their one. It's the same feeling you have in an extra inning game when you're playing at home. You get them out in the top of the 10th, you have the bottom of the 10th and the bottom of the 11th. You have six outs to their three. Obviously that's a pretty big psychological advantage. That's what you need to do to come from behind in games. You need to go to the mound and stop them from scoring or at least keep them from putting together the knockout inning and then you have a little less pressure on you in the next two offensive innings and I think we got that done. We didn't get that done in the Saturday game. Guzman for them has kind of been a key factor in their overall success.
bc.net: We've talked before in the past about how when you're putting together a rally like your 15 run inning that hitting a home run during a rally can actually hurt the rally because you have to essentially start the rally all over again. Your team loaded the bases five times in the inning and cleared the bases twice.
RW: That's what made it impressive because after Zach's home run, most of the time that's the end of the whole rally. Not only was it a home run and it clears the bases but it lets the pitcher go back to the windup and takes all the pressure off. Zach gave us the lead but your own motivation, the goal when you start the inning is to get the tying run to the plate, get the tying run across the plate, then get to the lead. We did the three main things you're trying to get done when you're playing from behind all in one inning and to regenerate the inning two or three different times. To have done it against an outstanding coach in Sam Piraro and an outstanding pitching staff is really impressive.
bc.net: This weekend you head to Reno to take on Nevada.
RW: Historically we've played pretty well there but there's been a lot of splits over the years in Nevada. Every once in a while we'll hit each other in the mouth. Last year we won the series at home along with the infamous tie.
I remember the first year in the league and we got swept. Luke Hopkins was out for that series and he was our guy and we just didn't handle it well. There's a lot of history in the series. I've always said that I think Nevada is the litmus test. How we do against Nevada, it's a tough traditional series, I know when we beat them two out of three last year it was a big deal to the ballclub. It was a big deal to me.
I've always felt like going into the year, regardless of how Nevada is doing, they're the team that tells me if I'm good enough or I'm not based on how we play in their series. It'll be important that we go in there and play good baseball.
Obviously they've started the year off 0-3 but they'll be able to forgive themselves because they did it against the big dog, the highest ranked team in the league in Fresno and they played them pretty tight in each of those three games. Fresno scored late in almost all of them and a couple of the margins weren't as close as how the game really was.
They still have to feel like that they still have time to salvage the season. They may look at our series as the key series of telling them whether or not they have the chance to compete. They probably feel like at this stage that the probably don't have a chance to go win the regular season outright, just because of what's happened before, but they're in that stage of "can we get enough guys playing well together so that when we get to Mesa we've got a chance to knock somebody off and win a tournament championship?"
There's still a lot of motivation left on that ballclub and it'll be our job to go in and play good quality baseball and see what we can do about winning a series on the road. The thing about this league is we only have six weeks. After the Nevada weekend we're halfway through the league and you have a pretty good idea of where people stack up. Obviously we're hopeful that we'll be looking towards those last two weekends, with Hawai'i at home, with a chance to win a regular season championship. That's what our goals are. So you've gotta play well.
We're gonna be without Parker, Dan Reid should be back to full strength. Gerry Renteria is back active for us so the issues we had with pitching depth are healed up a little bit so we're stronger going into the series. We need those kids that are filling in for Parker to play well again. People want to look directly at who took his spot but it's really not that as much as it is about how the rest of the ballclub raises their level of play to make up for a missing guy.
bc.net: How important are these next two weekends, you're on the road at Nevada and then on the road at Seattle for four games and you've talked about wanting your team to prove that it's a good road club.
RW: The next eight games are pretty important because that's the one thing that's left out there that we haven't proven that we're good at, playing on the road. We haven't been horrid but we haven't been what we'd hoped we would be. Nevada is generally a good offensive yard depending on which way the wind is blowing. I don't know anything about Seattle.
Going into Fresno you hope that after the next 12 that you're going in with the conference lead or a chance to take it over.