Any baseball coach who’s been around for a while knows that you can’t take your Opening Day lineup card and just Xerox it.
Sure, you’d love for everyone to stay slump-free, to avoid injuries. But that’s not reality. Baseball is far more unforgiving a game than that.
Not that you have to remind the Baylor Bears.
“You wish you could play on paper and say, the Opening Day lineup and the Opening Day pitching staff is the exact same lineup you’re taking into a regional or a Super Regional,” centerfielder Richard Cunningham said. “It’s simple as that — you’d love for February to look the exact same as June. But you know and expect that these things are going to happen. Unfortunately it’s happened to some of our better guys, and that’s part of it, and from an identity standpoint I thought that everyone that has come in and filled in has done a phenomenal job.”
The injury bug bit Baylor like a fire ant this season. Preseason All-American catcher Shea Langeliers missed three weeks with a broken wrist before returning last weekend. Last year’s Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Cody Bradford is sidelined for the season with thoracic outlet syndrome. Others, like outfielder Cole Haring, pitcher Logan Freeman and now pitcher Hayden Kettler, have seen injuries keep them out of action.
Still, the show must go on, right? The Bears (11-4) have been clinging to the word “opportunity” as it pertains to their overall team health. It’s an opportunity for others to pitch in and help out. It’s a chance to show what they can do, and why Baylor signed them in the first place.
“I’m really happy for the guys who probably came in, especially new guys, and they’re not sure what their roles are going to be, and they find themselves thrust into some situations that they probably didn’t anticipate themselves being in,” Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez called his pitching staff a collection of “moving parts,” given the changes he’s had to make on a weekend-by-weekend basis. It’s become fairly common for the Baylor coach to have at least one TBA — “To Be Announced” — spot in his announced weekend starting rotation.
That’ll be the case this weekend as well, as Kettler’s status is up in the air as he deals with shoulder soreness. Rodriguez plans to start left-hander Paul Dickens in Friday’s opener, followed by right-hander Jimmy Winston on Saturday and a yet-to-be-announced hurler in Sunday’s finale.
On the upside for the Bears, this weekend’s foe Cal Poly (6-9) doesn’t boast the kind of fence-clearing power that Baylor will face in Big 12 play. The Mustangs have hit just one home run, which is one less than Baylor leadoff batter Nick Loftin had by himself in the Bears’ 6-3 win over Abilene Christian on Wednesday night.
But just because Cal Poly might play the small-ball style that is prevalent on the West Coast doesn’t mean the Bears are going to change their approach.
“It’s hard to say, ‘Hey, just keeping throwing fastballs down the middle and they won’t hit one out,’ because that’s usually when you get bit,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re going to play our style of baseball. We know they’re going to play how they’re going to play, so we’re going to adjust accordingly.”
Bear Facts: This marks Baylor’s final weekend series before the start of Big 12 play on March 22-24 against West Virginia. … Rodriguez said that outfielder Cole Haring could see some at-bats this weekend. Haring injured his groin trying to make a play on a hit off the wall two weeks ago at the Shriners College Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston. … Cal Poly’s Friday night starter Jarred Zill (0-3, 4.22 ERA) is one of the better strikeout artists in the country, ranking 14th nationally while averaging 14.77 Ks per nine innings.