Young Guns

The Blue Raiders arrived for their three-game series in Jonesboro with an 11-5 record. Of those 11 wins, eight came from the arms of players who have less than two years on the roster. The coaches knew prior to the season opener that they would have to rely on some untested arms in 2010, but they certainly didn't expect the contribution to be such a big part of the team's success.

As of the writing of this article, this young crop of arms leads the Middle Tennessee staff in several key categories: ERA (1.76 - Justin Guidry, second year), Wins (5 - Nick Montgomery, second year), and strikeouts (17 - Hunter Adkins - first year). Additionally, true freshman Daniel Palo is currently second on the team in games started (4) and Junior transfer Eric Gilley is second on the team in ERA (3.78) and tied for second in wins (2).

When asked if the team was prepared to rely so much on relatively young arms, pitching coach Mike McLaury responded with a very simple and frank ‘Yes.'

"Daniel Palo and Hunter Adkins were two guys we knew were very talented," McLaury told BlueRaiderZone during a recent interview. "When they make quality pitches, they're as good as anybody."

McLaury was complimentary of the entire staff, but focused a lot on the younger pitchers.

"We just have to get them in there so they can see what the difference is between Division 1 and high school or JUCO or whatever it is," he says.

One such guy who's adjusting to the new level of competition is Eric Gilley. Gilley transferred to Middle Tennessee this season from Vol State Community College.

"It's been an adjustment because you have to keep the ball down more," says Gilley. "That's the biggest adjustment I've had to make because you can't just blow the ball by hitters here."

For a guy like Gilley who can touch 94 m.p.h. on the radar gun, that might be a tall task after relying on the heater in lower levels. But as his statistics so far attest, it doesn't seem to be a problem for him. As mentioned earlier, Gilley's 2-0, 3.78 mark are good enough or second on the team in both categories. While his big numbers are worth some praise, there is obvious room for improvement when examining the stat sheet.

In his five appearances (three starts) in 2010, Gilley has given up seven walks to only six strikeouts. Opponents are also hitting .343 against him on the season. While this might be a cause for concern to some, McLaury is well aware of it and is working on the contributing factors of these stats.

"Right now inconsistency is something we're struggling with," says McLaury. He goes on to describe that the staff gets it done in spurts, with a few great outings bundled together followed by a few not-so-great outings.

"There's definitely the talent there to get it done. We've just got to do a better job making pitches," he says.

McLaury is constantly working with the staff not only on improving their performances, but also maintaining a sense of continuity throughout the season. By constantly emphasizing pitch placement, the outcome will hopefully impact walks, pitch counts, opponent average and obviously wins.

"In between games he works with all of us in the bullpen," Gilley says. "During the game, he'll sit down and talk with you about stuff and tell you an adjustment he sees that you need to make."

Gilley goes on to say that he talks with McLaury every inning about his performance and the opposing team's hitters. According to McLaury, he doesn't try to make major changes to pitchers, instead opting to work on the things that the pitcher brings to the plate.

"They've obviously done something to get here, so you're not going to go sit there and make a wholesale change," McLaury says of the types of things he works with pitchers on. "You might mess with a grip here and there, but nothing really drastic."

Whatever the case, McLaury has to be proud of the staff's current ERA (4.80) which is .35 points lower than last year's total of 5.15. While that number can fluctuate day-to-day, the hope is that it continues to decline throughout the season as the Blue Raiders get into conference play.

Second only to the overall record, is the task of getting experience for the younger members of the staff who will be tapped to anchor the battery after current senior leader Kenny Roberts graduates. He currently acts as the Friday night starter on the squad, with Junior Chad Edwards and several other pitchers finishing out the weekend rotation.

The hope is that younger guys like Palo, Gilley and Hunter Adkins will be able to make a smooth transition into those leadership roles in 2011 and beyond. If the beginning of this year is any indication, then they are making rapid progress and will continue to do so throughout the regular season and ideally into the NCAA Tournament.

Extra Extra

Eric Gilley on his repertoire: "My fastball and curveball are my two main pitches. I also throw a change-up, too." Gilley said that he was pitching in the upper 80's to lower ‘90's during his recent outings and touched 94 m.p.h. at least once during his start against Lipscomb.

Mike McLaury on the pitchers that have impressed him the most so far this season: "Obviously Kenny Roberts because he just goes about his business. I know he had a rough outing in his second game, but he came back strong in the third. As far as new guys, they've all shown ability at times. Hunter Adkins game that he threw against UT was really impressive because he struggled with his command and was behind in the count but he was able to beat a good team, even though he didn't get the win on paper."

McLaury on how he recruits pitchers: "You compare them to guys you have and then you look for an out pitch. Whether it's a curve, a sinker, a changeup, when you're out looking, you want the guys that have the out pitch, are willing to throw the ball over the plate and willing to go after the hitter."

Blue Raider Power Top Stories