Nine For Nine

Preseason baseball practice begins next week at Sunken Diamond as the Cardinal prepare for the '07 campaign. In this latest edition of "Nine for Nine," we posed nine questions for the Cardinal skipper on a range of topics including the starting pitching rotation, Erik Davis' return from injury, the two-way players, a standout frosh hurler plus much more.

Q: Were you surprised that Erik Davis pitched and pitched so well in the fall after his summer injury?

He's fortunate he didn't lose that eye.  That was a very serious injury.  Anytime you get hit, I don't care if it's as a hitter and you're hit with the pitch or as a pitcher, you should be tentative.  And to be honest with you, since I've seen him, I haven't seen him be tentative at all.  Actually, the other day we were doing some stuff and he had a line drive hit right back up the middle that went right by him and it didn't seem to faze him.  That's truly amazing.  It's very difficult to come back from that and to put it in the back of your mind.  Everybody has to put it in the back of their mind.  As a hitter, you have to put it in the back of your mind that you're going to get hit.  And as a pitcher, if you do get hit, you have to put it in the back of your mind.  That's easier said than done.  Obviously, he's done that and been able to do that.  I have never seen him tentative at all.  In fact, I think in the summer, he pitched in early-August for a semipro team in Reno which was truly amazing to get back out there.  That's a great story.

Q: Going back to last season, can you ever remember a year in the Pac-10 with such dominant starting pitching from top-to-bottom?

No, it was pretty impressive.  As dominant as I've seen.  When you have Greg Reynolds, the second pick in the draft, he's not even All-Conference.  That kind of tells you.  The flip side is, I don't know if anybody can name you the Friday starters this year.  It goes from a very pitching-rich conference last year, everybody kind of new who their Friday starter was to this year and I can't name you a Friday starter from around the conference.  Maybe Cal's freshman kid (Tyson Ross – now a sophomore).  It's totally different.  Last year was as good as pitching as I've seen, especially that Friday starter, in a long, long time.  And it showed that with the draft.

Q: Who are the guys you're looking at as starting pitchers?  A Friday starter?

You have (Nolan) Gallagher and (Jeremy) Bleich who pitched a lot for us last year and they were starters for us at the end (of last season).  They were the guys doing the starting and yet Bleich also had seven saves.  Obviously, we have those two guys.  I think Erik Davis.  I think we'll try to use him in a starting role as opposed to relief in the first two years.  The kid Inman pitched well in the fall to be looked at as a starter.  Fearnow has pitched very well for us.  There are 5 or 6 guys who are capable of starting for us.  I don't think it's a situation where I could tell you who our Friday starter is; it could be one of 4 or 5 guys, which is good or bad.  But I think we're in a similar situation as most teams.  We have some good arms and depth, it's just a matter of who will step up and do it.  As of right now, the most experienced guy is Gallagher as a starter.

Q: Ryan Seawell wasn't a highly regarded recruit out of high school and he's now become your starting center fielder.  Did you ever envision that when he was a younger player?

It's hard to say because he's a good athlete.  Not that much attention, not a highly recruited guy, but a good athlete.  Very big and muscular and good speed.  Rapoport was a good center fielder, but Seawell is as good as we've had in terms of getting a jump on the ball and making it look easy.  That's tough to teach.  Basically, he was an infielder in high school.  He didn't play much outfield until he got here.  He's a natural about being able to go get the ball and the matter with him is just being able to stay healthy.  He hit well for us last year, he hit over .300, could steal a base, and had a little pop.  He'll hit for a little more power this year.  Yeah, it was a surprise, but he earned it.  He worked hard for it.  He will help us because he's an older player, even if not experience-wise.  He played well the last two summers and got a lot of at-bats.  He hung in there.  It's tough, he basically had to wait a year or two before he could play and he's had a couple of injuries.  It was a pleasant surprise.

Follow-up Q: When you look at him, you don't necessarily think of a leadoff hitter, but he seemed to do very well last year in that role.

Yeah, you don't, but that's where the stats come in to help.  When you look at his on-base percentage, he gets walks, he gets hit by pitches.  I kid him, he's like a magnet, the ball hits him all of the time, he's not trying to get hit. *laughs*  He's not like a Fullerton guy sticking his elbow out, he just gets hit a lot. *laughs*  He's a magnet to the ball.  He gets hit a lot which helps your on-base percentage.  He's not your typical leadoff hitter.  I'm not sure where we'll use him (in the lineup), but I look at statistics and his on-base percentage is better than anyone else and that's why I had him there.

Q:  From what I saw and heard, Sean Ratliff was only hitting in the fall.  Is he still going to pitch?

He had minor surgery for cartilage, which was no big deal.  After the summer, it was bothering him a little bit.  They didn't want him to throw off of the mound.  They didn't want that elevation, the coming down on the mound with your landing foot.  They said he could throw and do everything (else).  They wanted him to go 7 or 8 weeks before he threw off the mound.  He played all three outfield positions.  He hit very well in the fall.  He's got good power, as good as anyone on the team.  His arm was in good shape.  At the end of full-team workouts, he started to throw off the mound and he threw during individual workouts and it feels good.  He's going to do both.  We just needed to rest him in the fall.  He and (Austin) Yount will do both.

Q: Where does Austin Yount fit in this year?

If I were to start today, he'd probably start at second base.  The problem for Austin is that I've got to leave him at both (hitting and pitching).  He wants to do both which is great.  He's got a rubber arm.  You just have to be really careful on the practices as a position player – especially second base because there's a lot of throwing involved.  But Austin is good.  He knows his arm and when he needs to back off a little bit, he will.  The key for me is when I pitch him, I like to let him know when he is going to pitch which is hard if you're not a starter (pitcher).  We'll manage that as we go along.  I need to leave him at both because he's good at both.  Same with Ratliff.  It's a little harder for him (Yount), but they both want to do it.  And if they were to slack off in one area or the other, then maybe I would limit it, but I don't think that's going to be the case with either one of them.

Q: Based on Fall Ball, it seemed that Jason Castro was playing mostly at first base and is a guy ready to take a leading role at the plate.

If we started today, Jason would play first.  But I can't keep him away from catching because he's a very good catcher.  As long as I've been here, we've never had more depth and better catching than we've had this year.  All three of those guys (Castro, Brian Juhl, and Brent Milleville) can throw and we'll get enough offense.  Milleville has really improved defensively.  If I was to go today, I would put Castro at first.  I would catch or DH Milleville.  All three had good fall's offensively.  All three handle the pitchers well.  We're very fortunate there.  We're also very fortunate that Castro and Milleville can play other positions.  Milleville won't embarrass himself in the outfield.  I don't just have three catchers where all they can do is catch.  Juhl is in that category, he'll catch or DH.  But the other two can play somewhere else if I want to get all three into the lineup at the same time.

Q: Jeff Inman had a good fall on the mound.  Can you talk about his skills as a pitcher?

He's got good stuff.  He would have been a high draft, probably a top two or three round out of high school.  Came from a smaller school in Bakersfield.  He was hurt his junior year and didn't pitch until his senior year.  Great arm.  Great athlete.  Played a little football, some wide receiver.  Very quiet.  Very unassuming.  Had a great fall.  Now, again, how quickly does he make the adjustment when we're playing games?  I don't know.  But he's shown that his stuff is good enough that he'll be in the mix and whether he pitches very much for us this year or not, he'll be a very good pitcher in college.  He's got too much stuff.  As long as he stays healthy and develops normally, he'll be fine.  He had a great fall.  Probably of all our pitchers, the most consistent, outing-to-outing.  Has very good command, doesn't walk many people.  Can throw two or three pitchers over for a strike and that's unusual for a freshman.  Very impressive, especially for a freshman.

Q: Have you seen Toby Gerhart on the baseball field at all this year?

No.  I didn't want to see him until his football was over.  And when their season was over, we were basically done (for the fall quarter).  I'm not worried about that.  He's an athlete and he wants to play.  Lives in Southern California, so he'll throw and hit (over winter break); he'll do what he needs to do to get ready and then we'll get him going in January.  I think the thing with a two-sport athlete is that you don't worry about the other sport when they're in season.  And then you gear up and go from there.

Read more comments from Mark Marquess in the 2007 Baseball Season Preview in the February issue of The Bootleg Magazine.

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