Ask Dave: How about that start?

We're 12 games into this 2003 baseball season, and already Cal State Fullerton has done some things no other Titan team has accomplished.

First, the Titans opened with eight straight victories -- the best start in school history. Then, last Friday night against Nevada, CSF prevailed in a game for the ages. The Titans overcame a late 9-0 deficit with a run in the eighth inning, an eight-run ninth inning, then won the game in the bottom of the 14th, 10-9. As far as anyone can tell, it was the greatest comeback in school history. The type of game that can launch a team on to greatness.

Throughout their 11-1 start, the Titans have received key contributions from several true freshmen -- Danny Dorn, Justin Turner, Sergio Pedroza, Neil Walton and of course, left-handed pitchers Ryan Schreppel and Ricky Romero. And don’t forget redshirt freshman Dustin Miller.

The Sunday starter already has won Big West Pitcher of the Week twice in four weeks -- no small feat when you consider those vying for the award every week are his Titan teammates, along with Long Beach State’s Abe Alvarez and Jered Weaver. And one of the jewels of Fullerton’s recruiting class from a few years ago, Kyle Boyer, is enjoying a rebirth of his career this season and already has had some key performances this season, including the game-winning hit in Friday’s 14-inning win.

But of course, nothing has been won yet. It’s a long season, with a lot of baseball left. We’re about to turn the page on February, so it’s still early. But it’s never too early to check in with Titans assistant coach/pitching coach/recruiting coordinator Dave Serrano to get his thoughts on the state of the Titans. So TitanCentral.com talked to Dave a few days ago to discuss the first month of the season.

TitanCentral.com: First of all, I have to ask you about Friday night’s remarkable comeback. That truly was a game for the ages. Now that you’ve had a few days to reflect on it, what are your thoughts on that game?

Coach Serrano: Well, it was a remarkable comeback. Personally, I have been involved in a few big comebacks as a coach and as a player, but not from that far behind and not with one inning with two outs to go. It’s safe to say that was something that I don’t think any of us have been through, where you go down to the last two outs and you roll an eight in the bottom of the ninth inning against a good team. We didn’t play the game very well that night. It was exciting, but we thought we had taken a step back, at least in the first eight innings in that game. Wes, I think, had good stuff, but didn’t pitch to his ability obviously. We didn’t swing the bats offensively. (Mateo) Miramontes, their pitcher, was really on that night, pitched like an All-American like he is. We didn’t play the game the Titan way for the first eight innings and we were lucky to come out of that with a win. But we came out of it with a win and it was a remarkable way to win that game.

TitanCentral.com: Was that the type of game you look back on during the season, in situations where you fall behind?

Coach Serrano: Well, I think it’s something that people will hold onto next time we’re down by three or four, hopefully it’s not an eight-run deficit going into the ninth inning, but this team has shown that already. It’s shown that in Vegas, in that Sunday game. And that’s the thing that the coaching staff is excited about. We’ve had a lot of easy victories, we’ve had big leads and all that, but this team has shown that the few times they’ve had their backs against the wall, when we have bases loaded and one out, we can get the key hit at the right time. So, it’s exciting to see that this team has that desire and drive, that no score is too much to come back from.

TitanCentral.com: Let’s talk about Kyle Boyer. He’s turned into a very nice story for 2003. I think it’s a credit to his work ethic and determination that he didn’t let his two disappointing seasons get him down, and a credit to the coaching staff for recognizing that there’s too much talent there to give up on. What was the thinking of the coaching staff coming into the season, regarding Boyer?

Coach Serrano: Well, we’ve always liked Kyle. We’ve always liked his ability. I think Kyle was his own worst enemy for the last couple of years. He’s very hard on himself. He takes the disappointments in baseball very hard. And I think he’s matured beyond that now. I think he’s still very hard on himself, but I think he accepts the failures a little bit better now. You know, this game of baseball is about failure. The best hitters make out six to seven times out of every 10, and I think he’s accepting that better. He’s done a phenomenal job for us in center field. He’s come up with some good, some big key hits late in games for us. And that’s good to see. I said to somebody before the season started, that if Kyle Boyer can have the season that we’ve always anticipated out of him, things are gonna be pretty darn good.

TitanCentral.com: Turning to the pitching now, what can you say about Ryan Schreppel? He’s obviously been phenomenal his first four games as a freshman. My first reaction is, I’m surprised he wasn’t drafted higher (he was selected in the 20th round by the Minnesota Twins) coming out of high school ...

Coach Serrano: Well, he was supposed to be. He was supposed to be drafted higher. I think he kind of priced himself out of that. I think he realized that the college route was gonna be better for him. And I know he was disappointed that he did go later, but as the draft was approaching last June, there was talk of him going as high as the second round to the sixth round. But I think people got scared away because they knew he wasn’t gonna just sign to sign and it was gonna take a pretty good signing bonus (to get him to pass up college). Yes, it did work out very well for us. Ryan Schreppel has been phenomenal in his freshman year. I think he’s only gonna get better. What you don’t see maybe up in the stands from him, but you learn as you’re around him more is that he’s a fierce competitor. He competes every pitch, every inning of the game. He doesn’t like to lose, doesn’t like to fail and that’s a good thing to have inside of him.

TitanCentral.com: He’s also a very quick worker on the mound. Sometimes with a freshman pitcher, you’ll see a guy take a lot of extra time out there, maybe dilly-dally on the mound, especially after giving up a hit or a walk and a few base-runners, but he goes right after the hitters, doesn’t waste any time out there ...

Coach Serrano: Yeah, he is a quick worker. I think he’s probably picked that up off of some of the veteran guys that he’s been around. Wes likes to work quick, Chief likes to work quick, our guys go right after them. That’s part of our philosophy. We want to work quick, keep the tempo of the game going so that the defense can be set. The thing about Ryan that has really impressed me is that, during the different stints of the year he’s learned a lot. In the fall when we were working, one thing I kept telling him is, he was throwing too many pitches per inning. I said, “If you want to be a starter, if you want to go nine innings, you can’t be going four innings and giving up 70-80 pitches.” And he has really bought in to that. And it’s made a huge difference for him now. I know he was very disappointed, I had told him, as a Saturday guy you’ve got to be able to eat up innings, can’t just give us four or five quality innings because we don’t want to use that much bullpen. And that was after the Fresno State series, when he was throwing five stellar innings. But what a lot of people maybe don’t realize was that he had the flu really bad the night before. And he was very weak and very sick Saturday when he was pitching, but he wasn’t getting the ball up. And I got him out after five because we had a big lead and I didn’t want him to get sicker. But he was disappointed because he wanted to prove to me that he can go deep in the game, and he would have if he was healthy. And this weekend, he was very pleased and we were very pleased to see him go seven good innings. He could’ve probably kept going, but we wanted to get him out, not wanting to burn him out this early in the year, especially as good as our bullpen’s been.

TitanCentral.com: This year’s group of freshmen obviously was a great recruiting class. Can you describe some of the things you look for in a player when you’re out recruiting?

Coach Serrano: Obviously, ability is the first thing you look for, you look for certain abilities. Actually even before that, the first thing you’re looking for is what your needs are. If you don’t need a catcher, you’re not out looking for one, no matter how good a catcher you are, you’re not really looking at that. You’re looking for what your needs are, whether it’s pitching, infield, or outfield, or offense or left-handed hitters. So that’s the first thing, then ability. And the thing that’s the hardest to do -- and I know this from a recruiting standpoint and probably from a professional standpoint -- is trying to find out more about the kid and what he has inside of him, and whether he is gonna be a fit to your program. This program at Fullerton, it’s about baseball players. That’s why I think this recruiting class is so special, not just the ability, but I think we’re very fortunate and very lucky with a lot of the new kids we brought in, they’re pure baseball players. And they dedicate themselves to the sport, and they’re smart, they work hard. And they like to play baseball. If you don’t like to play baseball, then this isn’t a good place to come to because we spend so many hours together out on the field working out, and if you’re just out there for the fun of it and you’re not willing to put in the time, this isn’t a good place because you’ll just get burned out from how much time we’re gonna put in because, as I say from Day 1, our goal isn’t just to win the conference, our goal is to win the national championship. Our goal from working out every day is to be the national champion.

TitanCentral.com: And obviously this group of freshmen fits in very well with the program ...

Coach Serrano: Yeah, they’ve bought into the system. They’ve gelled very well with the returners that we have. And it’s an exciting group, and it’s exciting not just for this year but for the future if they stay with the same focus they’ve come in with.

TitanCentral.com: Let’s look at the shortstop position. One of those freshmen, Neil Walton, got a chance to play over the weekend and came up with a key hit in the Friday win over Nevada, I understand Justin Smyres hurt his thumb?

Coach Serrano: Yeah, he got hurt in our intrasquad game last Tuesday, in our scrimmage game that we had for some pitchers to get some work. He jammed his thumb on a swing, and that’s a tough injury to have as a hitter because of holding the bat, gripping the bat, and swinging through the ball. It’s bothered him. The last two days of the weekend he didn’t start. I think he could’ve played if we needed him, but we really would’ve needed him to. But I think with a thumb injury, it needs some time to heal so it doesn’t end up getting worse.

TitanCentral.com: And it worked out well, with Neil Walton coming up with a big hit in the ninth inning on Friday night ...

Coach Serrano: Yeah, Neil Walton has been playing well, and also Jason Corapci. And David Fischer is now back. That’s the thing that’s so exciting about this team is that we go to the bench, you know, Coach commended the bench guys for that victory on Friday. I mean, every guy we brought in off the bench did his part, and that’s what is so exciting about this team is that we’re deep. And if somebody isn’t having a good day, we can go to a pinch-hitter and he’s gonna give us a quality at-bat and make a quality play on the field. And that goes the same for the bullpen. If the starter doesn’t have it, we can go to the bullpen and those guys have been phenomenal coming out of the bullpen. So, it’s not just the starting players that have been good, but the group of guys who aren’t getting their names called as starters who are coming off the bench and coming out of the bullpen to help this team get the wins.

TitanCentral.com: The lineup was juggled a bit this past weekend with Ronnie Prettyman batting leadoff, Dorn in the cleanup spot and Richie Burgos batting sixth. Is that something we can expect to continue?

Coach Serrano: I think Coach is still trying to find the right order for the lineup. And I think it changes due to a left-handed pitcher or a right-handed pitcher. We have stayed pretty much with the same nine to 10 or 11 guys in the lineup. One of the reasons why Prettyman was moved up was because Smyres came out of the lineup. So Ronnie was the next best guy to be a leadoff hitter. I think you’ll always see the coaches tinker with the lineup to try to get who’s hot into certain RBI spots in the lineup. Richie was in the sixth spot, he could be in the fifth, he could be in the fourth again. But I think you’ll see some movement throughout the lineup, depending on how guys are doing and how guys aren’t doing.

TitanCentral.com: What’s the latest on Darric Merrell and Travis Ingle? I noticed Merrell was throwing in the bullpen during Sunday’s game ...

Coach Serrano: If the opportunity would’ve been there, Darric could’ve thrown in the game. Darric is ready to go. He threw in the squad game last Tuesday. He is ready to go. It’s just about finding time for him to pitch. That’s not gonna be easy, due to the fact that all the guys we have down there that have been doing the job. But we’ll find a spot to get him back out there. Once we start playing midweek games that’s gonna be good for the whole pitching staff. Travis threw in the bullpen (Sunday). He’s continuing to progress. He’s a little further behind Darric, but he is progressing. I’m not sure what the timetable is with him, but hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we’ll get him back out there, too.

TitanCentral.com: I also saw Jared Eichelberger throwing in the bullpen on Sunday. Can we expect to see him in a game soon?

Coach Serrano: A lot of guys were throwing in the bullpen because Sunday is a throwing day because it’s the last day of the week. So guys that aren’t pitching in the game go down to the bullpen. Eich has done a good job in the squad games, and there’s a lot of guys down there that have done a good job. It’s just that our numbers and our quality is up so much right now, and the guys that we have run out early in the year have done the job. It’s tough, it’s tough on me, it’s tough on those guys down there. And they just have to continue to work hard in the bullpen so when their name is called, and they’re given an opportunity, they can shine in the innings that they’re allowed.

TitanCentral.com: Has a decision been made yet on whether to redshirt Mike Martinez?

Coach Serrano: I don’t think a decision has been made. Mike has been throwing in the bullpen now -- we’re converting him into a pitcher also ...

TitanCentral.com: You’re converting Martinez into a pitcher?

Coach Serrano: Yes. We haven’t decided yet if he’ll redshirt. That’s something Coach Horton will handle with Mike. I think Mike Martinez can be a quality, quality Division I pitcher if he’s given the opportunity as a pitcher. It’s hard at this level to do both, and I think we’re not gonna take the bat out of his hands, possibly next year if he is to redshirt, but I think our focus will be more with him as a pitcher because he has a chance to be a very good pitcher down the line for us, and hopefully at the next level.

TitanCentral.com: As I recall now, Mike was recruited out of high school (at Katella) as a pitcher, wasn’t he?

Coach Serrano: Yes, he was recruited as a pitcher, yeah.

TitanCentral.com: Nick Lovato is also redshirting ...

Coach Serrano: Yes, he has to redshirt because he transferred back.

TitanCentral.com: At what point do you have to decide on redshirts?

Coach Serrano: As long as a guy doesn’t play, he can redshirt. If you play an inning, you can’t redshirt. In Mike’s case, that’s something, like I say, that Coach Horton will have to address with him and talk with him and whatever is best for Mike and the team. I think if Mike is given a full year under his belt, during this semester and the fall semester to become a pitcher, I think you’re gonna see some special things out of him.

TitanCentral.com: Have any other decisions been made, as far as any of the freshmen redshirting this year?

Coach Serrano: I think Blake Davis is redshirting. John Curtis is redshirting. Again, all these things are speculative due to the fact that, if we have a rash of injuries and they can help the team, then they’ll be asked if they want to give up their redshirt. A lot of times we redshirt for what’s in the best interest of the player more than anything. I think John Curtis, and I think Blake Davis are gonna be very good baseball players in this program. But it’s foolish to think of them getting 5 or 10 at-bats and wasting a whole year right now, when next year there will be more job openings and they can become starters as redshirt freshmen and get a lot more at-bats.

TitanCentral.com: Any freshmen pitchers redshirting?

Coach Serrano: Evan Myrick will be redshirting and Geoff Tesmer will be redshirting, and I think that’s it.

TitanCentral.com: This weekend with the Kia Bash, there should be a postseason atmosphere out there with Augie coming back and the defending national champions, are you thinking about juggling the weekend rotation or are you gonna stick with the same rotation?

Coach Serrano: We’ve already made the decision. We are gonna change the rotation. Ryan Schreppel will start Friday against Tulane. Wes Littleton will start Saturday against Texas. And Dustin Miller will start Sunday against UCLA.

TitanCentral.com: The thinking behind that was, you want your No. 1 pitcher against Texas?

Coach Serrano: Well, I don’t look at it as that. I mean, Tulane is gonna be a very good opponent. They just swept three from Pepperdine, and Pepperdine has a good pitching staff and they put up some big numbers against them. Obviously, Wes is looked to as the No. 1 guy, but I think we’re fortunate that we have three No. 1s. We might even have five or six No. 1s, to be honest with you. We have guys in our bullpen that would be second or third starters for a lot of other programs out there. And when you get Travis Ingle and Darric Merrell out there and you look at the Jason Windsors and the Ricky Romeros, I mean, you’re talking about seven No. 1s. So I don’t know if it’s a matter of, yeah, Wes is going to pitch against Texas and there’s a reason for that. Texas has a good running game, they’ll play the inside game a lot. I think Wes is a little bit more adept to doing that right now. Ryan will have a very tough opponent in Tulane on Friday night and he will have to be there with his “A” game for us to be beat them. It’s hard to move Dustin because it would be hard to move him from a Sunday all the way to Friday or Saturday because it would take a lot of days off his normal work routine. So, yeah, we are kind of changing it up for this weekend. I think this weekend is like a regional atmosphere. You’re talking about three teams that are prominent programs. It’s like a four-team regional. It’s gonna be exciting to see how this team handles the challenge. It’s gonna be tough. UCLA hasn’t come out of the gate very well, but they definitely have the ability and the chance to be a very good team at the end of the year. They’re very young at many positions.

TitanCentral.com: Those last two starts over the weekend against Nevada by Miller and Schreppel were certainly the kind of games you’d expect to see from a No. 1 starter ...

Coach Serrano: We’re very fortunate. We’re very fortunate to have so many quality guys. And when I say quality guys -- I’m not just saying this because I’m their pitching coach -- but quality people. It’s a great staff to be around. They’re mature, they know what they have to do to get things done. Like I said, as a coach, I feel sorry for some of those guys, and I try to get them all as many opportunities as I can. But there are some very talented guys down there that would be in the starting rotation for many good Division I programs throughout the country. And we’re fortunate to have them and why I like our chances as we continue to get better down the line is because we are gonna have so much pitching and we might not have as many tired guys as other programs have because we’re able to give the ball to so many people.

TitanCentral.com: Is Texas gonna become a regular part of the schedule, maybe home-and-home in the coming years?

Coach Serrano: We are going there next year. We are going to Austin next year for a three-game set and I think there’s always a possibility of that. I don’t handle the schedule. That’s Coach Vanderhook and Coach Horton that handle that, but I think a home-and-home would be a great thing for both programs. It’s exciting to have Coach Garrido back this weekend. I’m sure it’s exciting for him to come back, and exciting for the people here to have him back. He’s the guy that basically started this program from the ground up. It’s exciting for our team to compete against his team, and they’re coming off a national championship and it’ll be that much more exciting. But the thing we can’t lose track of is that there are three good teams that we’re gonna be competing against this weekend and not just Texas. We’re gonna have a tough challenge Friday, we’re gonna have a tough challenge Saturday and we’ll have an equally tough challenge on Sunday. And that’s the way we’ve got to look at it. You can’t just look at one team and put all your focus on them. Like I said, it’s just like a regional, and you have to take one game at a time and take them as they come.

TitanCentral.com: OK, that wraps up this edition of Ask Dave. It should be an exciting weekend with big crowds at Goodwin Field.