Baseball 'armed and ready'

The Alabama pitching staff has a crafty veteran and a rookie phenom as its first two starters. After that, it's anybody's guess, but there's plenty of talent to choose from.

Brent Carter, a 6-3 junior, went 10-5 with a 3.30 earned run average. Carter led the SEC in complete games and finished second in strikeouts. Wells said that he hasn't really gotten any better, but he's still very effective and getting people out.

The Saturday starter will be freshman Wade LeBlanc, a lefty who followed assistant coach Todd Butler from McNeese State to Alabama. LeBlanc was a 2003 Baseball America First-Team All-American from Barbe High School in Louisiana, and Wells calls him the best freshman pitcher he's ever coached.

"He is better than all of them," Wells said. "He's just good. You watch what you say because that is a lot of pressure on him. But he's good, and throws several pitches for strikes. He didn't play at a 1A private school, he played in a real league in high school and for one of those Louisiana travel teams. He played at a big time high school so he has been under the gun."

"It is quite a jump and I'm sure he'll have his ups and downs. He just has a number of pitches and throws a lot of strikes. I don't know if he has had a bad outing the whole time he has been here. He is one of those guys that can recover and that helps. He is not a hard thrower but he just gets people out."

Wells listed a few candidates to be the Sunday starter, including freshman lefty Brandon Belcher, junior righty T.J. Large, junior righty Andrew Walker, and junior lefty Taylor Tankersley. Belcher, Walker, and Large are all newcomers.

Tankersley began last season as the No. 1 but struggled in his sophomore season much like record-setting pitcher Lance Cormier did while he played for the Crimson Tide. Cormier rebounded to have solid junior and senior seasons, and was drafted in the fourth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Brent Carter is a proven talent.

Senior Seth Johnson, a weekend starter last season, struggled to a 7-6 record with a 4.71 ERA, but has pitched well in the spring.

"Johnson bounced back from a tough outing (last scrimmage) and really pitched well," Wells said. "He and Walker were the real highlights to me. Walker continues to pitch well and threw better than he did last week."

Wells said that Walker, a 6-1 righty from Kansas, would likely be the No. 3 starter to start the season.

"He is not overpowering but he throws a lot of strikes," Wells said. "He competes good and I think he would be a good Sunday starter right now. His velocity last week was 87-89 which is a little better than it was the previous week."

If Walker can't get it done, there is more talent available.

"T.J. Large is a talented player," Wells said. "You've got old reliable Seth Johnson and 41-year-old Jeffrey Norris who is still with us. He is attempting to break Jesse Orosco's record for longetivity (Norris is actually 25). (Sophomore) Allen Ponder pitched better but I wouldn't put him there yet, and Walker."

(Wells was joking about Norris, of course, but he does feel confident to have an older, experienced hand to turn to in a crisis.)

Ponder is coming off arm problems that ended his season last year. Also returning is junior Eric Mennen, a righty who pitched well in relief in the College Station regional. He brings experience to the table.

The closer will likely be Tankersley, a closer his first year, or righty Matt Downs, a sophomore transfer from Shelton State who can also play infield. Belcher is also a candidate out of the pen.

"Belcher is a freshman but he has really improved," Wells said. "I was thinking in terms we would rotate our Sunday starter until we get to the conference. If Belcher could handle it, he would be a nice guy to bring out of the pen. He has got a quick arm. He is a lefty and you'd like a righty and a lefty."

Other candidates include junior Morrow Thomley, Ryan Beagle, Tyler Meigs, Doug Denson, Greg Paiml, and Jason Elwell.

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