The move is fueled by the fact the Cougars graduated nearly 200 innings of starting pitching from last season’s team in Joe Pistorese and Sean Hartnett.
Adding another pitch — a change-up — to go along with his fastball and hard slider was a focus for Hamilton (pictured above) during fall ball.
“He needed a third pitch,” Lees told Cougfan.com at the conclusion of fall workouts. “I believe he has that now, so he has a fastball, a slider and a change. That leaves him more competitive.”
Hamilton, from Vancouver, Wash., also has been working on changing his approach from a closer’s (i.e. throw as hard as you can and strikeout everyone out) to a starter’s.
“We want that pitch count to be 100 in the seventh or eighth inning, not the fifth because he’s trying to strike everyone out,” Lees said. “So, learning to pitch at the bottom of the strike zone, pitch to contact, pitch the three pitches and have the confidence to throw those in any count.”
Lees believes the sky is the limit for Hamilton.
“He has the mentality and the stuff to be a first-round pick,” he said. “I firmly expect him to be a first-round draft pick, and if he is that means we’re good too.”
Hamilton is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection. Last season he posted a 1.67 ERA in 43 innings and tied for the conference lead with 13 saves. His 28 career saves is the most in WSU history.
His move to the rotation puts sophomore Ryan Walker and freshman Ryan Ward in line for closing chores. The rotation, meanwhile, looks to be rounded out by third-year sophomore Damon Jones, who redshirted last season, and freshman Parker McFadden.
Another notable change from the fall was Jack Strunc switching from shortstop to second base. He started 53 of WSU’s 54 games last season as a true freshman, hitting .245 with 12 RBI. With his move, freshman Justin Harrer out of Sisters, Oregon, is getting a long look at short.
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Lees, who was named head coach in June following Donnie Marbut’s dismissal after 10 seasons at the helm, said one of the main priorities of fall ball was “the players getting to know us and who we are and how we do things.
“Identifying language, a new language, putting in a plan for ground balls, how we hit, the drills and such.”
In addition, he said, the fall session gave he and his staff a jump start on determining roles and “identifying what kids can do specifically at each position, where they fit in the batting order, maybe add another skill set, and keep adding to it so they can have an overall better base when we start playing.”
The Cougars open the season with a four-game series at Texas State that begins Feb. 19.
LAST SEASON THE COUGARS HIT a Pac-12 worst 13 home runs — and six of those have graduated with infielder Ian Sagdal. Lees said the answer to more power is pretty straight forward.
“Just like speed, you want speed? Recruit speed,” he said. “There are only so many things you can teach (to increase power). The approach at the plate, being more consistent, staying off pitches and things like that can be worked with.
“Kids develop sometimes because they get stronger and they seem to select better pitches [to hit] as they get older,” Lees said.
But understanding that hitting is more than just taking batting practice is important, he said, noting that hitters must have a plan at the plate and know where their power really is.
- Less said junior first baseman Wes Leow turned in a stellar fall. “I think he’s going to do a great job for us.” Last season Leow played in 36 games, with 16 starts, and hit .254 with nine RBI.
- Sophomore Shane Matheny "is a very, very solid infielder, a good third baseman," Lees said.
- Lees said the outfield looks balanced with right- and left-handed hitters. “We have a little power, a little speed and will be able to matchup depending on who we’re playing. It’s solid right now, but there’s a chance to get pretty darn good.” The top returnees in the outfield are sophomores Derek Chapman (.265, no homers, 11 RBI) and Wes Hatten (.260/1/14) and junior Cameron Frost (.221/2/25).
- An emphasis with the infield is to make sure each players can play two positions, Lees said. Besides Strunc, returnees are sophomore Shane Matheny, junior Shea Donlin, senior Patrick McGrath and junior Trek Stemp, who is coming off a redshirt.
- Older players are buying in to the coaching change, says Lees. “I really, really enjoy our older kids. I think they’re not only great kids, but great baseball players. I think—on my part—as far as the connection that we’ve made over the last two months is good or better than where I could have ever dreamed.”
- Lees said his new recruiting class (unveiled last month) brings a blend of speed, power and "a little more athleticism, than what we have right now."