Deeper Pitching Staff Ready For Big Year

One of the main reasons Stanford fell short of a national championship the past two seasons was their lack of pitching depth. However, there is hope this season that more pitchers can be relied upon to get the big outs in clutch situations. Read on for notes on the Stanford pitching staff as a whole and who you can expect to be the major contributors this year.

I've written many times how excited I am about the hitting prospects of this team.  The Cardinal has so many weapons in their lineup that it's going to take quite an effort from an opposing pitcher to completely shut them down.  One aspect of this team I wasn't sure about heading into fall ball was the pitching depth.  This was certainly an area that burned Stanford at the end of last season when they just ran out of arms at the College World Series.  And as the old adage goes, you can never have enough pitching.

It's important to remember that you really have to impress Coach Marquess to be one of "his guys."  He doesn't use many pitchers to begin with, but with the expanded College World Series format and the always tough regional bracket, it's of extreme importance to have a lot of arms that you can turn to.  And of course if injuries strike, you want to be able to plug in the hole with a quality arm. 

I imagine the main thing Coach Marquess (and pitching coach Tom Kunis) is looking for from his hurlers is consistency.  Obviously every pitcher is going to have a rough outing at times (especially when facing this potent offense in practice), but it's important for a pitcher to be able to bounce back from that sub par outing and pitch to his potential.  If the coaching staff can't trust you to get outs in crucial situations, it's a pretty safe bet you won't be pitching in the later innings or in postseason games.  And it's extra tough for a Stanford pitcher as Coach Marquess is not an easy guy to please and will stick with his guns as long as possible.  So with all of that said, which guys do I think have made the cut and can you expect to see in big spots this year :

* Mark Romanczuk: The sophomore lefty is looking every bit like the Stanford ace in practice this month.  After a good fall, Romanczuk has turned it up a notch (similar to what John Hudgins did last January when he came back from break).  The stuff has always been there for Romanczuk; the main thing I look for from him is his control.  Well, over his last two outings in intrasquad games, Romanczuk has thrown 8 1/3 innings without issuing a walk.  Meanwhile, he's allowed just two earned runs while striking out six.  Romanczuk has shown the ability to dominate his teammates in practice.  And if he can do that, the southpaw can get any team out.  If his control remains in check, Romanczuk should be the go-to-guy on this pitching staff.

* Matt Manship: Manship had a stellar fall and is pitching well again here in January.  Last week, the sophomore righty was roughed up (really for the first time this season).  But like all good pitchers, Manship bounced back and with authority.  In today's intrasquad game, Manship tossed five shutout innings scattering five hits, walking just one, and striking out one.  His strike out numbers have been down this month, but Manship is still finding ways to get people out.  In today's game, it was a Greg Maddux-esque outing.  12 of the 15 outs recorded by Manship were by way of ground outs and most of the hits he gave up were just grounders that found a hole.  It's a pretty safe bet that Manship will be Stanford's #2 starter to begin the year.

The #3 starter spot seems to still be up for grabs.  At this point, I see two pitchers fighting for the job :

* Jeff Gilmore: The surprise of fall ball, Gilmore has kept it up here in preseason practice.  The sophomore right hander has a dazzling array of pitches and is in complete control every time he steps on the mound.  He only threw 2 1/3 innings all of last year, but is certainly ready to take on more of an expanded role this season.  If he doesn't start, expect Gilmore to be a key reliever.

* David O'Hagan: The senior right hander led Stanford in appearances last year (all out of the bullpen), but could move into a starter's role this season.  Despite not starting in a single game during his first three years on The Farm, O'Hagan has the durability to go seven or eight innings on any given day.  Like Manship, O'Hagan was hit hard in his outing last week.  But also like Manship, he bounced back nicely today firing five shutout innings.  In this afternoon's game, O'Hagan allowed just one base hit, walked only one and struck out five.  O'Hagan probably has the top curve ball on the team and it was definitely working for him today.  I'm sure the hitters knew it was coming, but still could do nothing with it.  Like Gilmore, if O'Hagan doesn't start, he'll be one of the main relief pitchers.

Now for the key relief pitchers :

* Kodiak Quick: The sophomore right hander took the fall off and the rust showed in his first couple of outings this month (control the main problem).  But by all accounts, Quick is back in top form and ready to again be a major contributor out of the bullpen.  In yesterday's game, Quick tossed five dominant innings yielding just one run on one hit.  He walked two and struck out two.  Sometimes his pitches move too much for Kody's own good, but when he can control it, there may not be a nastier pitcher on the team.  Quick will most certainly be counted on to be a late inning reliever this season.

* Jonny Dyer: I believe Dyer will be a key middle reliever for the Cardinal this season.  He pitched just 21 innings last year, but looks much improved.  Dyer threw the ball well in the fall and is keeping it up here in January.  Dyer is also one of the few upperclassman among the Cardinal relief corps, so his experience will certainly be valued.

* Matt Leva: The freshman right hander, Leva impressed in the fall.  One of the smallest guys on the field, Leva stands just 5'10" tall and weighs only 155 lbs, but he's done a masterful job in intrasquad games, especially for just a freshman.  Leva has showcased excellent off speed stuff and a very calm demeanor on the mound.  Look for him to see a significant amount of action out of the Cardinal bullpen this year.

So that's seven pitchers that I think are ready to be major contributors either as starters or relievers right now.  Of course, the regular season is four months long, so who are some others that could crack the regular rotation :

* Drew Ehrlich: Ehrlich is now a senior and still looking to establish himself on this team.  Last season, Ehrlich threw 19 1/3 innings, primarily as a Tuesday night guy.  He struggled for much of the fall, but has thrown the ball nicely his last two times out during preseason practice.  If Ehrlich continues to improve, he should see more innings.

* Blake Holler: Holler is a freshman and the lone lefty out of the Stanford bullpen.  The Indiana native, Holler has tremendous stuff.  He doesn't throw all that hard, but keeps everyone off balance.  Sometimes his control will give him problems, but there's no doubt Blake is tough to hit.  Last weekend, Holler worked 3 1/3 no-hit innings in an intrasquad game.  He also struck out a whopping five batters.  The lanky lefty though did walk three with two of those runners coming home to score.  Holler should get some opportunities early in the season and if he proves he can throw strikes and stay consistent, then he could be a key lefty out of the 'pen.

* Mark Jecmen: The 6'8" junior righty has all the tools to be a very successful pitcher, he's just had a tough time putting it all together.  Jecmen looked very strong in his first appearance of the month ( 2 1/3 scoreless frames), but then surrendered three tallies in just one-plus innings of work last weekend.  The scouts love Jecmen because of his potential, but I'm not so sure that potential will be realized this season.

* Greg Reynolds: During the fall, the much hyped Reynolds looked every bit like a pitcher who could challenge for the #3 spot in the starting rotation.  He throws hard, has good control while also displaying great stuff.  But, Reynolds right now has an injury that prevents him from throwing.  He has yet to take the mound during preseason practice this month and I've not seen him throw at all on the side.  Reynolds does continue to dress out and he participates in pitchers fielding drills - where running is required.  That tells me that it may not be too serious, but the coaching staff just doesn't want to take any chances with their prized freshman.  If it's not too much of a setback, expect Reynolds to see plenty of action this year, possibly as a starter if that role needs to be filled.

To conclude, I am very optimistic that the coaching staff will be able to rely upon more pitchers this year during crunch time.  There are a lot of young and unproven arms on this team, so they may experience a few growing pains early in the year.  But taking some lumps in February and March is well worth it if they're ready to go by May and June. 

One other thing to keep an eye on is if Romanczuk and/or Manship is ready to be the next great Stanford starter.  Hudgins stepped up and became the go-to-guy on last year's CWS team and it seems that every year the Cardinal make a run to Omaha, they have at least one starting pitcher that can be counted on for at least seven quality innings each time out.  Romanczuk and Manship are only sophomores, so it's a lot to ask of a couple of young guys, but then again, they did accomplish more than most freshman pitchers that come through Stanford.

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