Monday's (10-27) Baseball Practice Notes

With Fall Practice now in its final week, it's an important time for the pitchers to make a good final impression on the coaching staff. This afternoon, freshman Matt Leva and senior Drew Ehrlich did just that with a pair of outstanding performances in the intrasquad game. Read on for a look at both their outings, comments on the pitching staff as a whole, and which hitters continue to shine with the bat.

Today's practice was a good one for the pitchers.  Three hurlers - Matt Leva, Drew Ehrlich, and David O'Hagan - threw this afternoon with excellent results, most notably from Leva and Ehrlich.  With only three pitchers throwing today, the game was a little shorter than usual with a final score (4-0) much lower than usual.

I'll start with Leva.  The 5'10" freshman from Texas has impressed in each of his first three outings of the fall and today was no different.  In 3 2/3 innings, Leva did not allow a run on three hits.  He walked just one and struck out two.  Leva was throwing fairly hard with a fastball sitting in the mid-to-upper 80's (he topped out at 88).  He also showcased a nice curve ball that fooled a lot of hitters.  I'd like to see him throw/develop his change-up a little more, but that's a minor quibble on my part.

I continue to be impressed with Leva's ability to pitch inside to even the most powerful hitters in the Cardinal lineup.  He's not afraid to challenge and he changes speeds effectively.  Control has not been an issue all fall for Leva and everything I've seen from him thus far tells me that he'll be a part of the regular pitching rotation this season.

No sugarcoating it, Drew Ehrlich had been hit around pretty good his first three outings of the fall.  Not so today though as Ehrlich came up with one of the best outings for any Cardinal pitcher this fall.  In five full innings, Ehrlich surrendered just one base hit, no runs, one walk, and six K's.  Ehrlich wasn't throwing all that hard (mid 80's), but he was locating nicely and also mixed in a very nice breaking ball.  When Ehrlich is throwing from corner-to-corner and spotting his off speed stuff (something he wasn't really doing prior to today), he can be tough to hit.  No doubt that Drew was in the groove today and hopefully he's able to build on it.

Finally, senior David O'Hagan threw today and his line doesn't look quite as good as the others.  The Minnesota native yielded four runs (all earned) on four hits in 3 1/3 innings.  He walked three and struck out one.  O'Hagan was victimized by one bad inning as he gave up three tallies in his first frame, but settled down reasonably well after that.  Mid-to-high 80's for O'Hagan on the fastball which is normal including his usual killer breaking ball - probably the best on the team.

Looking at the pitching staff in general, I honestly believe that this will be a deeper staff than the last two seasons.  In 2002, the Cardinal used only five pitchers (Guthrie, Cunningham, Hudgins, Rich, McCally) during their postseason run.  Last season, Stanford used six hurlers (Hudgins, Romanczuk, McCally, Manship, O'Hagan, Quick).  Ideally, you'd like to be able to use eight or nine guys, something that the Cardinal had back in 2001 during their surprisingly deep CWS run.  Now, will Stanford be able to come up with eight or nine guys this year?

The key, I feel, is gaining Coach Marquess' confidence which is something that seems very hard to do.  There's no question from watching the last few CWS' that Coach Marquess would rather go down with his best pitcher at maybe 70 or 80 percent as opposed to a so-so reliever who's at 100%.  Now, this has worked in getting Stanford to the title game in three of the last four seasons, but never over that final hump en route to a championship.  Now, more than ever, do I feel that you need eight or nine pitchers if you want to make a serious run at the title.  I say this because if you lose early in the CWS like Stanford did last year, you're going to have to win even more games than in the past (because of the extended CWS and the championship series) to claim the title.  This also holds true if you lose early in the regionals and you're forced to win possibly four games over a 30-hour period.  The one exception is if you have three dominant starting pitchers like Rice did last year (along with a much easier bracket than Stanford) to where you can coast through your bracket and ride the arms of those standout pitchers.  I don't see the Cardinal having three unbelievable starting pitchers like Rice did last year though (and when was the last time the NCAA Selection Committee made it easy for a west coast team to win in Omaha?).

Anyway, that brings us to this year.  Four of those six pitchers from last postseason are back in senior David O'Hagan and sophomores Mark Romanczuk, Matt Manship, and Kodiak Quick.  You figure those four will be the leaders on the staff this season.  Now, about finding four or five others.  I've very much been impressed with the work of sophomore Jeff Gilmore this fall and I think he's ready to become a key member of the staff.  The top freshmen include Greg Reynolds and Matt Leva.  The former looks to be challenging for a spot in the starting rotation.  Junior Jonny Dyer looks improved from last year and may be ready to elevate his game.  I was a little disappointed with Ehrlich this fall, but he came through today with a masterful performance.  Frosh lefty Blake Holler also started slow this fall, but he's picked it up of late.  Holler has excellent stuff and being that he's the only lefty out of the 'pen, you figure he'll be given a chance to earn a spot in the regular rotation.  Other pitchers trying to crack the rotation include juniors Mark Jecmen and Steve Papazian, sophomores Pete Duda and Noah Hawthorne, and freshmen Logan Ardis and Jeff Stimpson.

Again, a big key in gaining Coach Marquess' confidence is the ability to throw strikes.  That's one thing I watch for in the fall, especially in the freshman (and a big reason why I've been very impressed with Reynolds and Leva).  I firmly believe that Stanford can have a pitching staff this year like they did in 2001 and I think it's necessary now if they want to win their third championship.

* Not much in terms of offense today.  The only multi-hit games came from Sam Fuld who finished 2-for-3 with a pair of singles and Adam Sorgi who went 2-for-4, also two singles.  On one of Sorgi's hits, he took an O'Hagan curve ball on 3-2, and lined a hit to right.  Very impressive at-bat.

* I continue to marvel at Danny Putnam's ability to go the other way, often with power.  He's really turning into a complete hitter and I think is the leading candidate to bat third in the order this season.

* Chris Carter now appears to be running at 100% for the first time this fall.

* One infield defense note ... for the first time this fall during a game, Jed Lowrie played at second with Adam Sorgi at shortstop which I thought was interesting.  Lowrie had exclusively been playing shortstop during intrasquad games until today.  I still believe Lowrie is the front-runner for the starting shortstop position (with probably Chris Lewis at second), but there's no doubt that Sorgi is pushing them hard and he'll see plenty of action this season.

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