Baseball Season Preview: Part VI

NORMAN, Okla. – The next part of the series is in, so let's take a look at the projected weekend starting pitching rotation.

1. Burch Smith, junior: Smith is expected to fill the void former OU pitcher Zach Neal left when he was drafted by the Florida Marlins. He's supposed to be the power-pitcher who has good off-speed pitches to complement his low-to-mid-90s fastball. Like Neal, Smith comes to Norman from Howard College and will wear the No. 32 in the Crimson and Cream pinstripes. He won a national title at Howard College in 2009 and was named an NJCAA All-American and the WJCAC Pitcher of the Year last season by recording an 11-2 record, posting a 2.50 ERA and striking out 79 batters. Obviously pitching in D-I ball is a different beast than in junior college, but Neal was able to make the transition after a while, so Smith should be able to do the same.

2. Michael Rocha, senior: Rocha proved to be one of the more reliable pitchers in head coach Sunny Golloway's arsenal at the end of last season. After spending most of the season in the bullpen, Rocha was moved into the starting rotation near the end of conference play and eventually became the game-one starter for the Big 12 Tournament and all three rounds of the post season. And Rocha did a good job for the most part in those four starts as the opening starter. Although Rocha only posted a 1-1 record during those four starts, he threw the ball well in all of those games. The main issue with Rocha is that he's the kind of pitcher who usually has one inning where things break down, but he showed during the post season that he learned how to work through those bad moments and settle down again. As long as Rocha pitches within himself and doesn't get too emotional on the mound, then he should be able to compete to be one of the Sooners' legitimate aces.

3. Bobby Shore, senior: Shore led the team with 10 wins last year, and he is expected to be the Saturday or Sunday (most likely Sunday) starter in 2011. He won't overpower anyone with his stuff, but he can be deadly when he has all of his pitches working for him. Shore displayed how effective he can be during the Regional and Super Regional rounds last season by when everything seemed to click and result in his two greatest starts at OU. He held North Carolina to four hits and two runs (one earned) to seal the Regional Round MVP honor and shut out Virginia to send OU to Omaha. Although he had a rough outing at the College World Series, he was a consistently good pitcher last year and should be able to repeat if not build upon that going into this season.

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