Monday, March 2, 2009

What to make of the Toreros

USD is sitting at 6-3 following the first two weeks of the season, riding a three-game winning streak and still ranked No. 11 in the nation by Baseball America.

That's all well and good, but it hides the fact that the Toreros are still searching to find answers in key areas. USD coach Rich Hill loves to tinker with his club (especially the batting order) even in good times, so there's no telling how much he will move the parts around.

The biggest concern in my mind is where the team is supposed to be so deep — the pitching staff. It's sporting a 4.95 ERA in nine games, which can partly be explained away by the competition. Oklahoma can bang. But the pitchers have hit 23 batters already and walked 34 more. That's six base runners a game they're allowing without making hitters earn their way on.

Sammy Solis is reportedly experiencing some tendinitis and Kyle Blair hasn't found his groove yet, so the Toreros' projected No. 1 and No. 2 starters are a question mark. The middle relief has been spotty at best, failing to stop the bleeding in an 11-2 loss to Oklahoma and a 14-6 loss to Pacific last week.

There have been bright spots. SCOTT DeNAULT (2-0) has not allowed a run in four relief appearances covering eight innings. Matt Hauser has compiled a 2.89 ERA in three appearances (one start) covering 9 1/3 innings.

The offense lacks for power — third baseman Victor Sanchez has two of the team's five homers — so the Toreros have to make up for it with execution, timely hits and heads up base-running. It doesn't help that two of the players who had breakout seasons a year ago, first baseman Jose Valerio and catcher Nick McCoy, have struggled at the plate in the early going. McCoy's defense will keep in the lineup to some degree, although junior Steven Chatwood has come on. Valerio will have to get it going before too long, or Hill will move someone else into the lineup.

Pleasant surprises early on have been junior transfer CHRIS ENGELL (.391, 5 RBI), who is settling in at second base, Chatwood (.381) and sophomore Tony Strazzara (.308), two returners who saw limited playing time a year ago and freshman outfielder Austin Green (.267), who has seized an opportunity afforded by injury.

Nine games is much too early to pass judgment. Heck, USD was under .500 (5-6) after 11 games last year and went on to the best record in school history.

Just saying what I'm seeing.

No comments: