Baseball Starter

Baseball workouts, in some form, are almost year ‘round. The official start for 2014, when the team can get together on the field before the season begins, was this past weekend.

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The weather warmed up enough for productive January baseball practices, with temperatures reaching the 50s both Saturday and Sunday. Hitting appeared to be ahead of pitching, which is a bit against the norm in the early going. Mike Bianco admitted that.

"A good day offensively," he said following Saturday's first intrasquad of the semester. "They haven't seen live pitching in a few months, and to swing it like that was impressive. A lot of guys swung the bat well. Defensively I thought we played well. Some guys didn't pitch it as well, and that was disappointing. But some guys did."

Chris Ellis, the junior right-hander being counted on as the first-game starter, wasn't his best. Ellis pitched only a couple of innings in late fall after letting his arm bounce back from injury last season and the summer. Ellis had some rust but has some time to shake it off before that first game on Feb. 14 at Stetson.

"He's got to make some better pitches," Bianco said. "He hit the leadoff guy 1-2. They get a sacrifice bunt down. He gave up a stolen base, then gets to 1-2 to Bousfield. Boz does a great job, and he (Ellis) gives up a run in the first inning. He needs to make a few better pitches at the right time and needs some good fortune to happen for him."

Ellis was glad to be back on the mound and knows the challenge he is presented. Being a first-game starter on a Southeastern Conference team is an important role.

"I gave up a couple of runs and didn't do as well as I wanted," he said. "But it was good to be back on the mound again."

Bianco was pleased with some aspects of what he saw from Ellis.

"I'm not happy with the runs. But his command, although not awesome, wasn't what got him in trouble," Bianco said. "He needs to make a few better pitches, especially when he's ahead."

Chris Ellis
File Photo

There were some "new" old faces out there for the first time in a while. In addition to Ellis, who had the fall off, John Gatlin returned to the diamond to hit. Preston Overbey had some back issues in the fall. Will Allen missed almost the whole fall with torn ligaments in his thumb and surgery. Matt Denney had a foot injury.

"Will had a good day. I thought Preston had a great day. Gatlin can't run 100 percent yet," Bianco said of his recovery from another foot surgery. "He's hitting but limited. His mobility is not there yet. Walking around he looks normal, but he's not full speed yet."

On Sunday, the pitching was better and that meant hitting was not quite as good as Saturday. That's the way intrasquads go – teammate against teammate.

"When you hit well you're happy that you hit. Then you wonder how come you didn't pitch as well," Bianco said. "It was nice to answer Sunday by pitching well. It was a good first two days."

Some position possibilities at this point given the way they lined up this weekend:

C – Will Allen, then Austin Knight.

1B – Either Preston Overbey or Sikes Orvis, with the other likely in the DH role that day – freshman Colby Bortles saw some time there this weekend; looks like a player. Athlete - brother of UCF QB. Similar to Preston Overbey.

2B – Freshman Dalton Dulin, and if John Gatlin is able to return 100 percent - (freshman Brantley Bell, son of last year's Pirates hitting coach Jay Bell, who has moved to become the Reds bench coach this season, also played some at second and third this weekend and wore the best defensive "yellow shirt" Sunday for having the top defensive day Saturday).

SS – Freshman Errol Robinson (wore yellow defensive shirt Saturday) or juco Kyle Toth.

3B – Austin Anderson (could move back to SS or 2B if need be), and Bortles got some time there this weekend. Bell was at third some Sunday as well.

OF – Juco Braxton Lee, Auston Bousfield, freshman J.B. Woodman, then Will Jamison, Cameron Dishon, Senquez Golson.

First four pitchers currently in the weekend mix appear to be Chris Ellis, juco Christian Trent, Sam Smith, and freshman Cheyne Bickel.

Some player comments from the weekend:

* Chris Ellis on the offense: "I thought our guys hit the ball well. They came out there ready to hit. I felt like I got ahead in counts pretty well. I was a little inconsistent. I just need to make better pitch execution and not just try to strike guys out. Two more weekends of intrasquads, and I'm excited about this team."

* Will Allen, with the walkoff home run Saturday to win it for his team; 3-6 with 4 RBI on the weekend – "It was a good offensive day (Saturday). Proud of us. We're deeper at every position and have guys who can compete right off the bat. It was good to get back there (at catcher). It was good to see some pitching, and with some good hitters up there."

* Austin Anderson following the first two intrasquads – "It's been a while since we've had an intrasquad (late October) and seen live pitching. (Saturday) we swung the bats really well. (Sunday) the pitching and defense were a little bit ahead of the hitters. Overall I think we looked good. We'll clean things up."

* Sikes Orvis on his development throughout the fall and into preseason – "I really worked on developing a better approach at the plate. The coaches helped me try to better understand what the pitchers are going to do when I get up there, have an idea, stick with what I do, and not try to do too much up there.

* Orvis on the offense this weekend – "I was surprised (Saturday) since usually the pitchers are ahead of the hitters and since we haven't gotten any live reps. But we came out swinging really well. That was good to see. Pitchers looked really stronger (Sunday)."

* Orvis on Will Allen's walk-off homer Saturday, coming back from a hand injury and surgery in the fall – "I know Will's been dying to get back out here. He's been working his tail off. To see him do that and have such a good day for the first time since early in the fall was awesome to see. Nobody deserves it more. The guy works harder than probably most people on this team."

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