Previewing Bama's pitchers

At the start of this season, it appears Tide coach Jim Wells is going to try to duplicate what last year's College World Series runner-up did: compose a weekend rotation of three left-handed pitchers.

That's how the rotation worked out in last weekend's Astros College Classic, where Wells threw sophomore Taylor Tankersley (8-5, 2.62) on Friday against Houston, sophomore Brent Carter (2-0, 3.31) on Saturday against Houston, and junior Jeffrey Norris (6-1, 3.34) on Sunday against Rice.

Wells picked Tankersley to start off the season as his ace, and is hoping the youngster can fill that role after being a mainstay out of the bullpen last year.

"He certainly has the makeup to be a No. 1 and he has improved," Wells said. "There will be a learning curve, but he certainly has put in the work, time, and effort needed at the position."

Tankersley aims to be Bama's ace.

"I'm pumped," Tankersley said. "I'm glad I'm getting an opportunity. Hopefully I can hold down that role."

Tankersley started Alabama's first game, pitching the Tide to a 9-3 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

He will try to hold down the role vacated by Lance Cormier, who set many records during his tenure at the Capstone. Cormier was drafted in the fourth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"Cormier's tough, he was a number one," Tankersley said. "There are some people that pitch on Friday nights and there are some people that are Friday night starters. Cormier was definitely a Friday night starter."

Carter has pitched well in scrimmages, and his ability to consistently throw strikes has garnered him the spot as Saturday starter. He was named to the All-Tournament team in last year's Tuscaloosa regional after pitching 13 innings and allowing only 2 runs. His complete game in the finals against Florida Atlantic forced a second game in which the Tide lost.

In his first action this year, Carter took the loss as the Tide lost to Houston, 2-7.

Last season Norris came out of nowhere to claim a weekend starting position. Wells said if he can repeat the "miracle of 2002," then he should hold on to the position.

Wells said he had no problem throwing three southpaws in the opening weekend. After all, South Carolina did it all last season.

Allen Ponder hasn't pitched like a freshman.

"We've never started three lefties in a weekend," Wells said. "But we're playing three different teams, so it won't be anything like one team adjusting to a left-handed starter."

Senior Brian Reed (5-0, 1.75, 9 saves) is set as the Tide's closer. The hard-throwing righty overcame academic hurdles to be eligible this season.

"There was concern with academics," Wells said. "To his credit, he had a mountain to climb in the summer, interim, and fall, and he did it. He showed a lot in that he was able to get through it, because it would have been easy for him not to do it."

Wells said that there were numerous candidates to start early in the season, and most will also be available for bullpen duty. That group includes true freshman Allen Ponder, redshirt freshmen Dewayne Marlowe and Jacob Legg, sophomore Eric Mennen (2-0, 4.66), junior Landon Brazell (0-0, 6.75), junior Jared Woodward (6-1, 4.52), and junior-college transfers Ryan Beagle and Seth Johnson. Of the group mentioned, only Beagle and Legg are left-handed, and Legg is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Another possible candidate is Martin LaRocca, who was brought in by Wells last season to be a weekend starter, but was forced to redshirt due to a torn labrum.

Brian Reed set as Bama's closer.

Ponder was named SEC Pitcher of the Week for his work in relief last weekend. Coming into the game with his team behind to second-ranked Rice, Ponder kept the Owls off balance as the Tide came back for a one-run win.

Working two innings versus Centenary, Mennen was credited with the win as Bama won its home opener last night, 4-3.

Other pitchers on the roster eligible to compete this year are junior Allen Brown, redshirt freshman Coley Blakeney, and sophomore transfers John Taylor and Nathan Doerschuk.

In the non-conference schedule, Wells will be looking to find his top seven guys and settle on a definite three-man rotation.

"We could try different combinations in non conference," Wells said. "In the pen you've got Reed, but you're trying to get more than Reed, and we're looking at Johnson, Ponder, and Beagle to be that. Over the course of the year you may see that one of those guys pitching well could be better suited to start than to relieve."

Based on early results, Ponder should be a strong candidate to start.

NOTE: Stats cited were from the 2002 season.

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