The Rebels have gotten off to an interesting start, losing 2 of 3 at Northridge (picked unanimously by the Big West coaches to finish last) before winning 2 of 3 at home last weekend against #19 Pepperdine (picked by the WCC coaches to win the conference).
UNLV has an experienced lineup, returning 5 starters from last year along with 3 part-time players. UNLV hit poorly at Fullerton, scoring 8 runs in 3 games. The returning players from that series hit .128, going 6-47. The two key players to watch in the lineup are 2B/OF Keith Smith and DH Chad Miller, who combined to hit 25 HR's and 115 RBI's last year. Smith also hit .359 and was all MWC in '06. Two of the most productive hitters thus far for UNLV have been C Michael Brenly (son of former major league catcher Bob Brenly) and SS Braden Walker, who both have 7 RBI's. The hottest hitter for UNLV has been 1B Efren Navarro, who is 11-26 thus far.
UNLV's lineup is mostly right-handed (Smith, Miller, Brenly and Walker are all RH hitters), with the lefties of note being Navarro and OF Calvin Beamon (leadoff hitter, redshirt in '06, had 100 AB's in '05 at Texas). UNLV doesn't try to run much, with the two main base stealing threats being Beamon (3 SB's) and OF Ryan Kowalski (14 SB's in '06). UNLV has only hit 2 HR's, which is a little surprising considering they hit 71 HR's last year and both series they have played have been at hitters' parks. UNLV's team average is .284, which is decent but not great for college ball, but they have been patient at the plate by drawing 32 BB's and they have scored 7+ runs in 4 of their 6 games.
UNLV plays well at home (18-10 last year including a series win against Texas, 29-30 overall) and the ball flies out of Earl Wilson Stadium in the altitude of the thin desert air so the Fullerton pitching staff will need to keep the ball down.
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
UNLV returns all three SP's from last year, which isn't necessarily a good thing with a staff ERA of 6.11 last year. UNLV's coach has moved two of those SP's to the bullpen, using newcomers on Fri's and Sat's. UNLV is hoping the bullpen keeps things close for the hitters to win the game for them late, as they did against Pepperdine. The UNLV defense has committed 13 E's in 6 games, contributing to 12 unearned runs. With the pressure that the Fullerton offense puts on teams, if UNLV plays poor defense against the Titans they will be in for a long weekend.
FRI SP - Craig Heyer (1-1, 5.25 ERA), RHP. JC transfer who has been UNLV's best SP thus far with an ERA over 5, which tells you the state of affairs for the UNLV pitching staff. Heyer has allowed 4 runs in each game and has had control issues, allowing 8 BB's in 12 IP.
SAT SP - Matt Hutchinson (0-1, 5.62 ERA), RHP. FR who has been undermined by shoddy defense (10 R's allowed, 5 unearned) and has gotten a quick hook in both starts (8 IP, 14 H's allowed).
SUN SP - Kevin Skogley (0-1, 11.00 ERA), LHP. Skogley is the lone returning SP in this year's rotation. He was probably UNLV's most effective SP last year with hitters having a .279 BA against him, although his ERA was pretty bad at 6.52. In his appearance against Fullerton last year, he was roughed up (3 R's, 3 H's in 2 2/3 IP). He has also been roughed up this year, allowing 18 H's, 6 BB's and 11 R's in 9 IP. Fullerton will make several lineup switches vs. Skogley like the team did against Stanford's LHP on Sunday.
UNLV has gotten some good work out of their bullpen to keep them in games. Marc Baca, RHP, has been outstanding in 4 appearances. He has allowed 1 unearned run on 5 H's in 6 2/3 IP. Adam Moser, RHP, has allowed 5 H's and 3 R's (2 ER) in 4 IP in 3 apps. The other 2 returning SP's from last year are both LHP's. Chris Saddoris has pitched well, allowing 2 R's (1 ER) on 5 H's in 5 1/3 IP (3 apps). Saddoris led UNLV with 6 wins last year and pitched well at Fullerton, allowing 3 R's and 7 H's in 6 IP. If Skogley is taken out of the rotation, Saddoris is likely to get the ball on Sunday. Ryan Tabor has not pitched well, allowing 9 R's (6 ER) on 8 H's in 5 2/3 IP (2 apps).
Fullerton has played well against UNLV under Horton, going 20-3 overall and 7-2 in games played at UNLV. UNLV definitely got a confidence boost with the series win against Pepperdine but Fullerton has a major advantage in starting pitching over UNLV (with the anticipated move of Jorgenson into the rotation) and has plenty of offense going into a hitters park to score runs against UNLV's pitching staff. Fullerton should win at least two of three games in this series and should only struggle if UNLV is able to keep things close and the bullpen falters like it did in the Sunday game against Stanford.