bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Ward Interview :: 03/03/14

bleedCrimson.net: Yesterday was a game you obviously needed pretty badly in terms of salvaging the series and getting your guys feeling better about themselves after what had happened the previous three games and especially as you head out on the road for 11 straight games.
Rocky Ward: Yeah it was very, very important. After coaching for 20 years we still get nervous about games. This one I woke up before the game and and felt a little bit more pressure. It wasn’t a championship game or anything like that but I knew it was important to us for exactly what you said. We hadn’t played well. We felt like we’d given away three games even though that’s not completely the truth. Oakland played very, very well. I think to come out on Sunday and get a real good outing out of Kilgore and the t.v. game helped. It’s something we’ve always played pretty well on AggieVision. We haven’t won all those games but we’ve won most of them. We were able to get control of the game and in reality once we got control, we hadn’t had control of any of the other ones, we weren’t going to let go.

I learned a little bit about the club, not that they bounced back but when they got to the top side, they proceeded to make Oakland pay. In their own mind, once we got control of the game we were going to maintain control and keep the accelerator down and they did. That’s good. In reality that’s what you have to do anyway. Baseball is harder to do that because you play so many games and sometimes mentally and physically you get tired and in a lot of cases you get tired mentally before you get tired physically and it’s important that the guys know that if we have a couple of disappointing games that we can bounce back and it’s important that I think among the teammates that once we get control of a game we can close it out and keep the emotional volume up, even later in the game.

It’s not that we were embarrassed by losing the three, we were upset, disappointed, all those terms. The Oakland players played hard, they got a little chippy and a little happy and by the end of the doubleheader they got irritating but that’s your own fault. When you have a road opponent come in and they handle you on your own turf there’s going to be a little celebration out of the other dugout. It wasn’t disrespectful and it wasn’t unsportsmanlike but it’s still not something that you like to watch. We got to dish out a little of their own medicine so to speak and I think it was important that we had that opportunity to “vent”. A 17-2 run-rule shortened game made the other three a little easier to handle.

bc.net: You also were able to Taylor Noyer moving in that game. He had a big hit early on in the game.
RW: Yeah, we actually got big hits out of two guys who had been struggling. We got a basehit out of Young to get us the first run and Noyer gets a hit right on top of that and that was big for those guys. When you’re playing poorly and your team is losing it’s a double whammy. If you’re playing poorly and the team is winning, you still feel bad but you feel good about the team. I think the guys who don’t play a good game and the team loses, they carry a lot more of the burden than the kids who played well when the team lost and that’s a psychological type thing. I think it was important for them because they struggled not only in the series but they’d both struggled through the first three weekends and in particular Taylor because he was 0-for-18 or 0-for-19, something pretty significant. He hadn’t had a hit since the second game of the season. He was showing it in his approach. He was swinging at bad pitches, he was being overly aggressive at times and sometimes he wasn’t being aggressive enough at some pitches he could handle. That was a good thing for those guys.

Kris Koerper was headed toward an average weekend. I think he was 3-for-12 going in and he has a big day going 4-for-5 and it makes it look like big weekend.

The game was important for lots of reasons. It’s always more difficult to win after you’ve lost and it’s nice to have a little bit of a confidence builder like that game before we head on the road for a tough series against Texas Tech.

bc.net: This was the first time I’ve had a chance to see Kris Koerper. He has the look and I can see why you’re so excited about him.
RW: When I described him to the media on the first media day, he’s like a gladiator. You can put him and his brother Joe, you can put them in gladiator outfits and they’d fit right in. Big, strong, men. The awesome thing about them is that they’re just great guys. These guys are good guys, very, very good students. Well respected in the community, they do a lot of stuff with their church and then they’re these big strong goliaths. It’s great to have that guy. To this point there’s been nobody on the opponent’s side that can match him. The only disappointment is that Joe has been injured. It’s like having Sim and his brother. It’s not that much different in comparison, there’s just nobody else out there that has it. Joe hit BP this weekend and his ribs are feeling better every day but he might be playable for Texas Tech, it’ll be a game time decision. it’s one of those injuries we have to be real careful with because if he pulls it again it’ll be another three weeks. It’s one of those things that has to be completely healed and a lot of cases you really don’t know until you really take a swing and miss. It’s the follow through that hurts a guy. He looks pretty good in the batting practice that he’s hitting. He’s still hitting at about 90 percent but every day he’s saying he’s feeling a little bit better.

I can’t wait to get both of those guys back in the lineup. It’ll be exciting and I have to be really careful not to push him ahead before he’s ready, in particular going on the road against a ranked opponent in Texas Tech.

On paper they had a below average weekend but in reality they didn’t. They lost to Houston who is 8-2 and Sam Houston State is 10-2 but then they turn around and beat Rice who is a good baseball team. It wasn’t a terrible weekend for them. I think they’re a pretty good baseball team.

bc.net: You lost the first three games of the series and gave up 16 unearned runs in the three losses.
RW: We really played poorly across the board in the first three games. We banged ourselves over the head because of the number of unearned runs we gave up and you blame that on errors and errors are easy to point blame at a guy. A guy makes an error, he’s the one that cost you the game but it was a multitude of things in all three games. We made defensive mistakes but they were always preceded or followed by a pitching mistake. Preceded or followed by an 0-2 base hit or a four pitch walk or just not making a good pitch to a guy. It just seemed like every inning we’d make an error or walk a guy. The first game with Bradley had the inning under control and was moving along and all of the sudden he walks a guy with two outs and then we make an error then we walk another guy and make an error and the wheels fall off. Once the bad fortune started we couldn’t get it reversed, couldn’t get it out of our head. It cost us game one and that was a game you felt like if you just make routine plays you win it easily. But we didn’t and you feel like you handed one away.

The next day we come out the next day and the same thing happens to you again. Billy Conard was not nearly as good as he was the first two times. His command wasn’t as good, his breaking ball wasn’t as good. But really the number one real statistic outside of the walks and the errors and throwing the ball to the wrong base, Kris on a play in the second game, we’d gotten it tied at eight, we’d fought back and got it tied but then they had a runner at first base and there’s a ball that just flopped into right field over his head. He goes and gets the ball and then makes a long throw across the field to third base where we didn’t have a play. Well what happens? The guy that hit the ball advances to second on the throw. Then they score on a wild pitch and then they score on a sacrifice fly. Well if he hadn’t thrown the ball and he hadn’t advanced and kept the double play in effect, they would have scored one but not two and they may not have scored one. Situations change the way players see the game and the levels of pressure that they play under and playing with one out second and third is much different than one out first and third because defensively as long as the double play is in effect you know a ground ball can get you out of it. There are lots more ways to get out of that type of jam. There were a lot of things.

Going into the Sunday game there wasn’t any value in talking about the Saturday doubleheader but you also don’t want the big pink elephant in the room either. As a head coach there’s something to be said but we don’t need to go regurgitate all the bad things. I’ve always used statistics to find that for me. In the first three games Oakland hit .475 with runners in scoring position and we hit .143. That’s a huge differential. Yes, we gave them 40 opportunities, they were 19-for-40 with runners in scoring position, yet we were 5-for-35. We still had 35 opportunities but the problem was we gave them about 10 of those 40 through errors. It wasn’t just that we gave them additional opportunities but they came through so consistently. It seemed like every time we got in trouble, we walked a guy or gave up a hit or something, a guy would step up and hit a ground ball through the infield. They did all this damage on the weekend with only four total extra base hits. They only had four extra base hits in the first three games. I don’t mind pointing out that the offense was the problem because I can fix that stuff. I don’t mind saying hey, you can’t hit .143 with runners in scoring position and expect to win. And you have to tip your hat to the opponent a little bit. That’s big time. That’s a stat I look at most every weekend and I’m not sure I remember my team ever hitting .475 with runners in scoring position. That’s something else, that’s a major anomaly.

When you look at the three games we know that if we take the unearned runs out we win all three but what it came down to is we were looking at it from the wrong angle. I was looking at the negatives and the things we did wrong on the defensive side and the pitching side but we had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t come through on offensively and this offense has had a little bit of that inconsistency.

When you go into the stats and you add the other game and look at it as an entire series, we hit .278 with runners in scoring position, that’s decent for a weekend. You’d like to hit over .300, they drop down to .426. That’s still pretty skewed, that’s still a great weekend for them offensively. It’s one of those things we can work on, being better with runners in scoring position. To a certain extent that statistic is randomness but all I want is my runners in scoring position batting average to be higher than my normal batting average. If it’s higher than my normal batting average then you’re okay with the ball club, it’s not a factor. Obviously it should be higher because the pitcher is under more pressure with runners in scoring position. You should hit for a higher average because there’s more pressure on the defense. They make more mistakes. Obviously there have been series where we’ve hit below our average with runners in scoring position and we did that this weekend. We hit .316 over the weekend but only hit .286 with runners in scoring position and that can’t happen. We work too hard with our ball club to get runners on base. We’re always leading the league in on base percentage and a lot of times we’re in the top ten in the country in that category. The philosophy and system is getting on base and having more RBI opportunities per game than our opponents do on average. That’s really what it’s about.

We’ve had years where we’ve had ball clubs that have hit .340 or .350 but the scoring averages are not that much more significant than those teams that have hit .300 or .290. There is a difference but not significant. The system has consistency up and down from the standpoint of getting on base. We’re very good in that area.

The weekend is what it is. You grow through it. Obviously there was something lost there. We had hoped to win three out of four and you’re 9-3 and feeling pretty good going into Texas Tech. If you win four, which is always a possibility, we’ve done several times early in the year in particular against northern opponents because we have an advantage, we’ve been outside more. So then you’re 10-2 and maybe people start look at us as being ranked again. Instead we’re sitting here at 7-5 and we’ve got two or three of those games that we just kind of left in the tank. Maybe it’s a ball club that’s still growing and still not quite a combined unit yet in order to make mistakes and still win. That’s really what championship teams do. Championship teams don’t make many mistakes but more importantly they play through them better than other teams. In reality, you have teams that when they make mistakes they make a second and a third one and we’ve kind of been that team at times and we’ve got to get through that. We’ve got to be quicker to forgive ourselves.

You have two options when you make mistakes in life whatever it might be. You can tuck your tail between your legs and look for somebody to have compassion for you or go hide in a corner. Or you can be mature and stand up for it and say, “Okay, I made a mistake. I’m starting right now to make amends for it.” That’s the only real option there is in athletics yet we see players take both options all the time. We chalk it up to the growth experience.

I really don’t know what to expect from Tech. They really pitch well. You don’t put up the numbers they have without really being good. They’re doing it against pretty good opponents. Their team ERA is 2.78 and out of their top three starters there are a bunch of guys with sub 2.00 ERAs. They’ve got one starter that has a 4.97 ERA but a whole bunch of guys with pretty serious numbers.

bc.net: This weekend is the first of 11 games on the road. Your teams in the past, especially your successful ones, have been very good on the road. What kind of feeling do you get from this team?
RW: The general public assumes that bad road teams are bad kids who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing on the road, not staying in their rooms, staying up late. Yet, I’ve had teams that I’ve had to make them leave their rooms. Get out and get some fresh air. If you’re in a town you’ve never been in, walk around a little bit, get to know it a little bit. We have lots of time between games and we need to rest our minds. We don’t need to be sitting in our rooms stewing and things like that. My gut tells me this will be a pretty good road team. They’re a bunch of good guys, they like to hang around each other and they hang around each other a lot at home. It’s not so much around the hotel and rest and all that stuff. It’s about how they handle themselves in the dugout. One of the things I did not like about last year’s ball club was when they weren’t playing well on the road or when the crowds were rude and disrespectful like they can be, tough crowds, they went quiet on me. To me a lot of those kids kind of withdrew into themselves instead of mentally saying, “forget you, you don’t know who I am, I’m going to go show you” and/or teammates when a guy makes an error, a guy coming off the field after making an errors, a teammate telling him, “You’re my guy, don’t worry about it, you’ll be alright.” Those are small little comments that teammates make to each other that are very, very important under duress.

That’s what we’ll kind of find out, is this a ball club that will withdraw inside of itself when it’s not playing well on the road or things are not going well or is it a club that will kind of pick each other up. Sometimes it requires a little bit of a mob mentality for guys to become angry players, to be made. It can go either way. You can get mad at the fans because they’re embarrassing you or they like to see you fail which is what they do because they’re opposing fans, that’s normal. Players individually on the road at this level have a choice. They either withdraw or they’re willing to stand out in front and bare themselves and know they have the support of their teammates to be able to go out there and play at their best regardless of the difficulty. We’ll get a chance to see it.

Texas Tech can be a really tough crowd. I think overall it’ll be a good experience. I don’t know how good the crowds will be. On Thursday night maybe not so good, on Friday night should be good, Saturday there’s weather coming in so that may keep some people away. I’m looking forward to that in general.

When we go to Davis, Davis will be the alter-ego to that. Having played in the Big Eight as a player there were a lot of places that were hard to play and around the midwest. One of the hardest places I’ve played was Lamar. They weren’t in our league but we went down and played in a tournament and those people were relentless. Of course I was the coach’s son so I was one of the major targets and they loved to point that stuff out. When we played on the west coast we didn’t have it as bad. It’s different. Crowds aren’t as big. I played at Northridge, I played at Santa Clara, obviously San Jose and Sacramento and have never felt like the crowds have had any influence at all. Almost like playing at a neutral site. Now Fullerton, when we played at Cal State Fullerton, that was a pretty rough crowd. Those people got after it. Part of it was they served beer. I remember every game I coached there at the end of the game getting back to the room I ended up smelling like beer because people were pouring it on me. It was pretty rough. That was about the only place I’ve ever gone in California and had a difficult time.

We played at Texas Pan Am which is the third leg of the trip, about four or five years ago. They have one of those problems where they have an old minor league facility which is too big for their fan base. They had a couple loud people but they were so dispersed that after an inning or two you really didn’t hear them.

My biggest disappointment in last year’s ball club was the fact that we were not a good road team where historically we had been. It’s where I really got frustrated with the team as a whole. We were 7-16 on the road. Sometimes as a coach you have answers that hit you right away and you feel good about how you lead your team but sometimes it doesn’t hit you for months and I just couldn’t understand why we weren’t doing well on the road. People seemed to be doing what they were supposed to be doing, I didn’t figure it out until some time in the summer. They just didn’t respond. They were just neutral. In order to be a really good road team you have to kind of attach to the emotions of the road crowd and use it a little bit. Be excited that there are people rooting against you.