Baseball Opens Preseason Practice

After a rainout on Friday and practice days on both Saturday and Sunday, the Cardinal baseball team took part in their first intrasquad game of the preseason on Monday afternoon. Both the hitters and the pitchers shined with a sophomore hurler dazzling during his stint on the mound while the All-American duo at the plate put on yet another show.

Monday's intrasquad game, the first of the preseason, had a good mixture of hitting and pitching.  The coaching staff gives each position player equal playing time during fall ball, but that all changes now that January practices have begun.  The top 12 hitters on the team were the only players that had an opportunity to swing a bat during the game making the task at hand much more difficult for the pitchers.  And clearly the star of the day on the mound was sophomore Greg Reynolds.

Reynolds was one of two pitchers to start today's game and he came up with a gem.  Over four innings, the Bay Area product surrendered no runs on just two hits with one walk and two strike outs.  He was in complete control the entire time, looked to be throwing hard, and was mixing in some very impressive off-speed pitches.  The only two hits Reynolds surrendered during his four-inning stint were a Jim Rapoport line drive single into center field to begin the game and a Rapoport infield single to first base.

Reynolds made an awfully strong case today to become a member of the starting rotation.  I've often wrote that he probably has the highest ceiling of anyone on the staff and everything that's occurred since the end of last season (his summer in the Cape, his fall ball performance, and today's outing) would indicate Reynolds is going to have a breakthrough sophomore campaign.

Ace pitcher Mark Romanczuk was the other pitcher to start today's game.  Romanczuk, an impressive 23-5 during his Cardinal career, missed most of fall ball to rest a tired left arm.  Today's outing was certainly an encouraging one for the Delaware native.  I was expecting to see some signs of rust, but Romanczuk, like Reynolds, showcased excellent control with above-average stuff throughout his entire outing.

Romanczuk's only hiccup came in his second inning of work when he allowed consecutive singles to Chris Minaker and Jed Lowrie which was followed by a John Mayberry, Jr. three-run home run to left.  With two strikes, Romanczuk threw Mayberry, Jr. a pretty good curve ball, but it was high enough in the zone for the slugging first baseman to make solid contact and rifle a line drive over the fence in left.  A tough break for Romanczuk as his final pitching line today shows three runs allowed in four innings, but today's outing I thought was a good first step of this preseason.

With the exception of those three batters, Romanczuk was basically unhittable this afternoon.  He allowed just one other base hit, did not walk anyone, and struck out three.  The southpaw was giving Rapoport fits all day long striking out the speedy center fielder twice - once looking and once swinging.  With a game now under his belt, it will be interesting to see if Romanczuk can build on this effort in upcoming intrasquad games leading up to opening night on the 28th.

Jeff Gilmore and Blake Holler were the other two pitchers to throw today.  Gilmore had a typical Gilmore outing.  In 3 2/3 innings, the junior yielded one run while scattering five hits.  He walked one and fanned three.  As always, Gilmore was around the strike zone with his usual good stuff picking up strike outs at opportune times.

Meanwhile, Holler had a game to forget.  Statistically speaking, Holler was the top pitcher of fall ball, but you wouldn't have guessed it from what took place today.  The lefty was pitching fine over his first two innings with just one run allowed on three hits.  But then the floodgates opened as he surrendered five runs on six hits over his final two frames.  Holler's control, in terms of walks, was good, but his location in the strike zone and his inability to finish off hitters did him in today.  After a spectacular fall, you know he's capable of better, so hopefully this was just one of those days for Blake and he's able to bounce back the next time he takes the hill.

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The 12 hitters today were separated into three groups:

Team A
1. Jim Rapoport
2. Chris Lewis
3. John Hester
4. Ben Summerhays

Rapoport was clearly the star of this team.  The sophomore center fielder finished the day 3-for-6 with a home run, two singles, and three RBI.  The two singles were mentioned above while the home run (a blast to right field) plated three against Holler.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, Jim Rapoport will be much more than a singles hitter this season.  He definitely does handle the bat well and he'll get his share of infield hits, but he is also very strong and will pop a few homers this season.  Rapoport remains the clear favorite to hit first in the batting order for Stanford this season.  Meanwhile, catcher John Hester also had a solid day with a 2-for-5 effort.

Team B
1. Chris Minaker
2. Jed Lowrie
3. John Mayberry, Jr.
4. Jeff Boes

Any team with both Lowrie and Mayberry, Jr. on it would be expected to score the most runs and that's exactly what happened today with Team B pushing across six scores (the other two squads combined for just four runs).  Mayberry, Jr. led the way with a 3-for-5, HR, 3 RBI performance.  The big hit was the aforementioned home run off Romanczuk.  With continued at-bats like that one, it's not hard to see Mayberry making a push for 20 home runs this season (only two Stanford players have hit 20 home runs in a season since 1990 - John Schaeffer hit 20 in 1997 and Edmund Muth hit 22 in 2000).

Ho hum for Jed Lowrie today.  The All-American second baseman went 3-for-6 with a double and three RBI.  Lowrie accounted for the only run scored off Gilmore today with an RBI single to right.  Then in his final trip to the plate this afternoon in a lengthy at-bat versus Holler, Jed went the other way ripping a two-run double to deep right-center field.

Finally, freshman catcher Jeff Boes came up with a couple of singles this afternoon.  This spot in the lineup for Team B would most likely be occupied by fellow freshman Brian Juhl who enters January as the clear #2 catcher on the team.  However, Juhl is out right now with an injury, so his classmate Boes stepped in and had a nice day at the plate.

Team C
1. Brendan Domaracki
2. Adam Sorgi
3. Michael Taylor
4. Ryan Seawell

Overall, this team struggled today scoring just one run.  Taylor recorded the only multi-hit game with a 2-for-4 performance.  He also stole a base.  The fact he's hitting third is a pretty good indicator Taylor is a strong candidate to start from day #1 this season.  Taylor continues to play mainly in right field and routinely shows off a tremendous arm. 

*******

Defensively, there were a few noteworthy changes from what we saw during fall ball.  The most significant is with Adam Sorgi and Chris Lewis.  Sorgi is probably the top defensive infielder on the team and is a natural shortstop - which is where he played the entire fall.  However, in both pregame infield workouts and during the intrasquad game, Sorgi saw significant action at third base.  At the end of the fall season, Lewis was favorite to start at the hot corner considering how much he played there in October plus his strong performance at the plate.  But it appears you can now seriously consider Sorgi for that starting position at the hot corner, in addition to Lewis.

Chris Lewis will certainly be in the starting lineup on opening night, so if Coach Marquess elects to go with Sorgi at third, then where does Lewis move?  One possibility is certainly DH, but for the first time this school year, Lewis saw significant action out in left field today.  Lewis is definitely athletic enough to play the outfield and he has a good arm, so the possibility of him playing out there seems very real.  These positions on the field will certainly be a topic of interest the remainder of preseason workouts.  And for the record, Lewis also continued to play at third base during intrasquad games (he and Sorgi were the only two players at the hot corner during the game).

Freshman Randy Molina was not included during the intrasquad game this afternoon.  However, of note, Molina was playing only second base, instead of his normal third base, during pregame infield drills.  Molina was a shortstop in high school, but many scouts believe he projects better long term at third base (he has a large frame at 6'3", 210 lbs.).  Molina struggled somewhat defensively at third in the fall, so it appears the coaching staff is now looking at him over at second.

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