Ask Dave: Wood bats and Ryan Schreppel

Lack of pitching depth and tired arms are problems with many college baseball teams when you get down to the final 10 games of the regular season. Not so at Cal State Fullerton.

As if the Titans needed more pitching depth, they are about to enjoy the imminent return of freshman left-hander Ryan Schreppel.

The Titans are 38-8, the unanimous No. 1 team in the country, lead the Big West Conference by two games and they have a key conference series at UC Riverside this weekend.

Wtih Schreppel about to return, it’s a good time to check in with Titans assistant coach/pitching coach/recruiting coordinator Dave Serrano for another edition of Ask Dave ...

TitanCentral.com: What’s the latest on Ryan Schreppel?

Coach Serrano: Ryan’s been throwing bullpen now for two weeks. He’s progressing very well. His knee is getting stronger, and I think he has his final test this Wednesday to see if the knee is back to full strength. And he’s actually gonna throw in the intrasquad game Tuesday (today) and my projection with him is he’ll probably, hopefully, get some innings in that SC game at Edison on Monday.

TitanCentral.com: Is it possible he could start that game Monday?

Coach Serrano: It depends. There’s a possibility he could start. We’re gonna see how we get through the weekend. ... On a side note, that game at Edison, both teams are gonna use wood bats that night.

TitanCentral.com: Yeah, that was gonna be my next question. I heard Rob Buska mention that on the radio yesterday. I couldn’t believe it ...

Coach Serrano: Yeah, Coach Horton came up with that. It’s a good idea. I don’t know if it’s gonna put more people in the seats, but I think it’s a good thing for the guys to get a chance to swing with wood bats. We’ve got a lot of guys that have a chance to go out and play (professionally) this year, so I think this is good. It’s a good thing for college baseball, to see something different with wood bats.

TitanCentral.com: Coach Horton came up with the idea?

Coach Serrano: Yeah, then he talked to Coach Gillespie and he gave his blessing and both teams are gonna do it.

TitanCentral.com: The general thinking is, you want to give scouts a chance to see what guys can do with wood bats?

Coach Serrano: Well, I think to give our guys a chance to play with wood bats. Like I said, we have so many guys that are gonna have a chance to play professional baseball, and this gives them a chance to play in a real game with a wood bat.

TitanCentral.com: Did you have to ask permission from the NCAA to do this?

Coach Serrano: No we didn't have to get permission from the NCAA. But I know that Coach Horton wanted to get the blessing from Louisville Slugger. We use Louisville Slugger and USC uses Louisville Slugger aluminum bats, so he wanted to make sure it was OK with them for us to do that.

TitanCentral.com: Turning to pitching, yesterday (Sunday) you started Ricky Romero and had Jason Windsor come out of the bullpen, is that something we’re gonna see more of?

Coach Serrano: Well, that was created by need. Through reports that I’d heard, San Luis Obispo’s struggled against left-handed pitching. You know, Ricky had been pitching well, Jason’s been pitching well all year. Ricky had, just a couple weeks ago, been Big West pitcher of the week. I wanted to run Ricky back out there. Jason has continued to pitch well, but he hadn’t been on it as well as he was a few weeks ago. So I wanted to cut back on his innings. But, to be honest with you, I think what’s best for this team is to probably have Ricky start games and Windsor is probably better coming out of the bullpen. It solidifies the bullpen that much more more with Windsor down there. I’m very selective with how I use Ricky out of the bullpen.

TitanCentral.com: Because Windsor has more experience as a reliever?

Coach Serrano: More experience, yeah, and Ricky has always been a starter and in the times I have brought him in in the middle of an inning, his performances have not been as good as when he starts an inning in the middle of the game. So it worked out great for us, and Ricky gave us 4 1/3. He was on a roll, then he hit a guy, and I think that kind of mentally got to him a little bit, and I was already gonna split it up a little bit, but I went to Windsor in the fifth with a runner on third and one out and he got a guy to pop up on the infield and a strikeout and that was a big run that didn’t score for San Luis Obispo.

TitanCentral.com: Will you do the same thing this weekend with the rotation against UC Riverside?

Coach Serrano: Well, I haven’t decided on this weekend yet. It might be Miller’s turn to take a weekend off, maybe. He hasn’t been on it the last couple of weeks. He really struggled Saturday. He has a little bit of a mechanical flaw, and we’re gonna work on it. I think he’s starting to get to the point, where, he’s pitched more innings than he ever has in his life and I’m thinking about maybe making a change that way. I haven’t huddled yet with Coach Horton. We’re gonna put our heads together and try to come up with the best plan against a good Riverside team.

TitanCentral.com: Speaking of Riverside, they really seem to be a program on the rise, with a good chance of making the regionals this year, how do you guys look at this team?

Coach Serrano: Oh, they’ve done a tremendous job, and that coaching staff has done a great job to get them to the top of the heap of this conference. And I think this is the year they were really shooting for. They have a lot of guys that have been in the program since they were Division II. They have a lot of older guys, they have experienced guys and they have a lot of talented guys. And by no means is this program at Cal State Fullerton looking past Riverside. Their stats match up right with ours, and they’re right there with us. You know, we do have a little bit of a lead on them, but by no means are we looking past them. They got a game from us last year, and nothing would make them more excited than to take a series from us. So we’re looking at it as a big challenge and by no means are we looking past Riverside.

TitanCentral.com: Let’s talk about Chief. He’s on quite a roll right now, very reminiscent of his freshman season. He’s obviously solidified his place as one of the great closers in the program's history, if not the best. Do you think fans sometimes take him for granted?

Coach Serrano: Right. There have been a lot of great ones in this program. You go back through the years, Scott Wright, Ted Silva, Adam Johnson, Kirk Saarloos, Chad Cordero. That’s where a lot of our success has come from, not just in my tenure as the pitching coach, but in all the years the program has been successful, we’ve made it a point to have a pitching staff that has had a solidified closer. Proof of that, as soon as we got the lead yesterday (Sunday), he was ready to go into the game, and he was on it again. I think he struggled a little earlier in the year, and I think a lot of that was due to the fact that a lot of his outings were just getting in work when we were winning games by a lot of runs. Now that we’re getting into some games that are save situations and closer games, he’s back on it, and it’s exciting to see that because we’re gonna need him more than ever now at the tail end of this year.

TitanCentral.com: After the team was ranked No. 1 last week, did the coaching staff talk to the players to say anything specifically about that, and how do deal with it?

Coach Serrano: Well, we just know there’s a bigger bulls eye on our back. I think there’s been a bulls eye on our back all year, the way we started. I think Coach Horton, the way he addressed it was that nothing’s gonna change. We haven’t done anything yet. Obviously, we’ve set the table for having a great year, and the players are very deserving of all the accolades they’re getting, but on April 28th -- obviously, we’re thrilled that we’re No. 1 -- but no one is satisfied yet, and everybody realizes that we have not reached the pinnacle of where we want to get to. We realize it’s most important if we’re ranked No. 1 on June 23rd, that’s ultimately the most important, and no one will remember the late April No. 1 if we’re not No. 1 at the end, on June 23rd.

TitanCentral.com: Let’s talk about Jason Corapci. I don’t think you can say enough about the way he’s handled everything this season. He never lost the team-first attitude. Can you talk a little about Jason and what he means to this team, as far as the example that he sets for the younger guys?

Coach Serrano: No doubt, it’s been very tough on him, and it’s tough on the coaching staff, when you see a guy that’s devoted 3 1/2 years of his life to good baseball, and being a good person in this program, and he’s a great ambassador for Titan baseball. And you know, there’s a guy that we just feel that beat him out, and he’s still an important part of this team, and he came up with a huge hit Saturday. And for myself, and for the rest of the coaching staff, nobody enjoys seeing that more than we do. I know Coach Horton has stated that, we don’t want you to be happy sitting on the bench, and he’s handled it the right way, and always remembered that the team comes first. And when you get the opportunity, put it back in our face and show us that you want to play and you deserve to play. And every time we’ve called his name, he’s done a great job. I can remember back to the Nevada series, he had a big at-bat in that big inning in the comeback Friday night. He had a huge at-bat, kept fouling off pitches, fouling off pitches and got on base, and was a big part of us winning that game. And he wasn’t starting on Saturday (at San Luis Obispo), but “Red” got hurt and he came in and gets a big hit and plays a good game for us, and that I think shows what this team is all about. If it’s Justin Smyres going down, if it’s Ronnie Prettyman going down, if it’s Justin Turner going down, if one of the outfielders goes down, or the catching position or the pitching position, there’s somebody that is just as good, if not better, that’ll come in and do the job and that’s what’s been so special about this team. We realize it’s tough on him, and we don’t expect him to like it, but he’s handled it well and he continues to show that he is a team player.

TitanCentral.com: As far as contributing off the bench, that’s something everyone can keep in mind for the postseason. Someone off the bench, like a Shawn Scobee or a Bobby Andrews might come up with a key hit in the postseason. I remember George Carralejo winning that big regional game at Ohio State a few years ago. So isn’t that something everyone who’s not starting right now needs to keep in mind?

Coach Serrano: I would agree with that. All the programs I’ve been around. Coach Horton and Coach Vanderhook, and all the programs they’ve been around, it always seems that somebody, you don’t know who that will be, somebody who hasn’t gotten all the media attention and all that, will do something huge for this team to move on to wherever it’s gonna take us. And you’re right about that, and Coach stresses that a lot. I talk about that a lot with the pitchers. The pitching is a little bit different because we use so many guys and the innings are really spread out, but somebody is gonna step forward and come up with a big hit or make a big pitch to help this team. And it’s true, they might not be getting the innings, they might not be getting the at-bats, but they need to remain focused because when they’re name is called, they’re gonna have to do their best to come through.

TitanCentral.com: With Sunday’s win, the team passed the win total of last year’s team. Do you think it’s fitting the team did that so early? Was last year’s performance kind of motivation for this year’s team?

Coach Serrano: Well, I don’t know, I didn’t realize until this morning when I read that we had passed that. But this is a new year, it’s a new team, it’s a different team. We have some of the same personnel, but I don’t think that motivation is so much of what happened last year. What happened last year happened last year. And we can’t dwell on that, we can’t look at that anymore. I think this team bonded early. We knew we were talented, we knew were deep in a lot of areas, and so I think this year’s team is doing it for each other more than for last year’s team. They’re doing it for their commitment to one another, and I don’t think it’s like, “Hey, let’s have a good year because we had a bad year last year.” I think we’re doing it because they’ve put in a lot of time, a lot of hard work and effort and it’s paying off. And we just need to continue to do that.

TitanCentral.com: OK, that wraps up this edition of Ask Dave. Look for the next one just before the regionals.