Korpi and Weiland Lead Pitching Staff

The Big East coaches and Collegiate Baseball Magazine have tabbed Notre Dame closer Kyle Weiland as the conference's preseason pitcher of the year. Baseball America disagrees. They are going with Weiland's Irish teammate Wade Korpi as the top arm in the Big East.

With a staff that lost its three top starters from last season, Korpi and Weiland's consistency will be counted on heavily this spring if the team plans on winning a sixth-straight league title.

Korpi will begin the campaign as coach Dave Schrage's ace, making the move from the team's No. 4 starter a season ago. Whether he was pitching on Tuesdays or the occasional weekend last year, Korpi was bringing it like he was already the team's No. 1 starter. The junior lefthander made 14 appearances, 12 starts, going 7-2 with a team-best 2.00 earned run average.

A crafty pitcher with a wicked changeup, Korpi was tabbed MVP of the Big East tournament after winning the opener and title game. He ranked 17th nationally in ERA, and 15th in strikeout rate (11.1). Korpi fanned 94 hitters in 76.1 innings of work.

"He deserves that (No. 1) spot starting the season, especially coming off the year he had last year and how well he did," Schrage explained. "But it's going to be a different role for Wade. He pitched a lot of Tuesday night games. Now he is going to step into that Friday night role where there is less room for error. He's our most experienced starter, and pitched in the most big games. He had a good fall and deserves that spot."

With the success Korpi had on the mound, the preseason accolades came rolling in. On top of the Collegiate Baseball recognition, Korpi has been named to the preseason watch lists for the Brooks Wallace Award (player of the year) and Roger Clemens Award (pitcher of the year). Baseball America has Korpi ranked second among Big East prospects in the 2007 Major League draft.

"It's nice but the big key is the team," Korpi stated. "Anybody would trade any of those things in for the success of the team. Our goal is the College World Series.

"We definitely need some guys to step up, and I'm going to have to be one of those guys that eats up innings this year. I invite that challenge and go from there."

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Korpi had one complete game last season, and struck out 11 in three of his 12 starts. He has tweaked his delivery a bit this season to be even more effective.

"Just minor changes here and there, like slowing it up when I first got here, now I'm working on speeding it up a little bit," Korpi explained. "Getting my tempo up a little bit. I feel that should help my pitches a little bit this year, especially my curve ball, which was a little inconsistent last year."

One guy that wasn't inconsistent last season was the hard-throwing Weiland. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right hander was named a first-team freshman All-American, and second-team all-Big East after saving a school record 16 ballgames (in 17 opportunities). That was good for third in the nation.

Closing for the first time in his life, the right-handed Weiland had an impressive 2.37 ERA in 30 appearances. He fanned 48 hitters in 49.1 innings of work, and was invited to the U.S. National Team tryouts.

"Last year I had some success, but that was because I had guys coming in before me that did the job and great defense behind me," Weiland said. "I just made a couple pitches and guys made a couple plays for me.

"I learned quick how to deal with stuff mentally. It was a whole nother aspect of the game mentally. As far as physical wise, everyone out there has the same stuff. As far as the coaches and playing as a closer last year, taught me how to deal with the good and the bad."

There wasn't much bad.

With the Irish losing starters Jeff Manship, Jeff Samardzija and Tom Thornton to the pros, Weiland's name was thrown into the mix as a potential starter. Two successful prolonged outings, including a 7-plus inning performance out of the pen in a 16-inning defeat to the College of Charleston in the NCAA regional, give evidence that he is up for the job.

"Coaches last year wanted me to kind of develop into that role," Weiland said, talking about the old staff. "This summer I started a couple games, then I went off to that USA team tryout and I was closing there for that tryout. I threw a lot out there, so I took off the summer, came back. I started a couple games. I was just getting my arm loose because I took the summer off. I didn't have as great a starts as I would've hoped, but I ended up closing a couple games and I did real well. It may just fit my role to be a closer.

Schrage agrees.

"In the fall we started out trying to extend him a little bit and having him go three or four innings," Schrage said. "He just did not look comfortable doing that. His velocity really fell off after the second or third inning. Then in the world series at the end of the fall, the team used him as a closer and he came in and was just lights out. I think he kind of relishes that role because he's done it, and I think he is confident in that role. It's always good, I think as a coach and as a team, to have a guy like that in your bullpen. That shortens the game. Lets try to win after seven innings because we know we have a guy that can shut them out."

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