Feb. 20, 2009
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - UC Santa Barbara's baseball team has been getting a lot of national attention this preseason - ranked No. 30 in a pair of preseason polls (by href="http://www.pingbaseball.com/rankings/di_top30.php"> Ping! Baseball and also Collegiate Baseball) and No. 33 in the country by Perfect Game.
Much of that hype for the Gauchos, who open the season this Sunday vs. St. Louis, is due to the amazing talent the pitching staff has.
The Gauchos, who have been projected to play in a Postseason Regional berth by Baseball America, as well as boasting the 18th toughest schedule in the nation courtesy of Boyd's World, are led by a trio of starters who could very well determine just how successful the team is this season.
"Because the schedule starts off with two games this Sunday, and then we play Monday and Tuesday, it throws us out of kilter right out of the chute," head coach Bob Brontsema said. "Early in the season we'll use our bullpen more."
Mike Ford, a preseason Third-Team All-American selection courtesy of Ping! Baseball and on the Brooks Wallace Watch List for the second straight season, leads the pitching staff after compiling a 6-4 mark and 2.96 ERA last season. Ford, who was a Second-Team All-Big West choice last year, also had four complete games.
When UCSB hosts UCLA on Tuesday, Feb. 24 - a Pink Zone game where the Gauchos will wear pink hats and wristbands - Ford is scheduled to start against the Bruins.
"Mike has been a horse for us the last two years, in that we have ridden him through a lot of big games," Brontsema said. "His competitiveness and work ethic is something that has spread throughout the program."
Teaming with Ford is the reigning Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year, Mario Hollands, who went 7-3 with a 4.03 ERA last season. Hollands also took home some other hardware after being named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team by Collegiate Baseball as well as being selected to the All-Ping! All-American Third Team.
The southpaw, who finished third on the team last season in innings pitched and strikeouts, will likely make his first start in the second of UCSB's two games on Sunday, vs. Cal State Bakersfield.
""Mario knows how to pitch and how to win," Brontsema said. "He should eat up a lot of innings for us. If he ends up pitching on Saturday's it's only because we would want to split up the right-handers. He has `Friday Night' type pitch-ability."
Another reason for excitement out at Caesar Uyesaka this season is junior transfer Joe Gardner, who will open the season as UCSB's starter vs. St. Louis. All Gardner did this past summer pitching in the Alaskan League was go 6-0 with a 0.60 ERA.
"He has been very good," Brontsema said, and then repeated it again for emphasis.
What has yet to be determined in the starting rotation is who will step up and become the Gauchos' midweek starter. Ford, of course, draws the tough assignment against UCLA because of his experience and tenacity, but him starting on a Tuesday is a pure anomaly.
Of course, because the team has not yet defined a closer, one of those aforementioned could be closing out wins, too. "We'll have to see who steps up into that role," Brontsema said.
A good candidate for the job could be West Valley College transfer David Meals, who was named Community College Pitcher of the Year at the Santa Clara County Hot Stove Banquet this past winter.
The right-hander went 8-1 with a 2.93 ERA last year in 15 appearances, including 13 starts.
"He is a strike-thrower," Brontsema said. "He could also set-up or close."
Freshman left-hander Chris Joyce, who was drafted this past summer in the 10th round by the Dodgers, could possibly fill that role. Last year at nearby Dos Pueblos High, Joyce was 6-1 with a 2.01 ERA.
"He's really good," Brontsema said. "He's got a good fastball with late life. He has good command of three pitches - his fastball, curveball and change-up. He's got good stuff. His command will dictate how many innings he throws."
Meaux made one start for UCSB last season, but "he could be our closer, too," Brontsema said. Last season the sophomore went 1-0 with a 5.74 ERA.
"He could very easily start but we're trying to find someone who can close," Brontsema said.
Which leads us to the relief corps.
Clayton Edwards is the team's returning saves leader after notching three last season to go with his 0-2 mark and 7.50 ERA.
Edwards could also be the team's closer, too, as "he has the stuff to do it," Brontsema said.
If Davis, a sophomore, does not become one of the team's midweek starters, he should fit into the team's bullpen as a middle or long reliever. Davis made three starts last year and finished with a 1-2 record and 10.06 ERA.
McIntyre had a 3.46 ERA last season in 14 appearances.
"He had a really good year for us last year," Brontsema said. "He had success almost every time out and we're hoping he can do it again."
Samuels went 2-3 with a 7.01 ERA in 20 appearances.
"He's got great stuff," Brontsema said. "If we can get him to be consistent he'll be a key member of the staff. He's got closer-type stuff. He's not a one-pitch guy. He's got a very good breaking ball to go with his fastball. He holds runners well and he fields his position well."
Cannon, however, is "a guy with a big league arm, but injuries have slowed him down," Brontsema said.
Wyrick, according to Brontsema "is a talented left-hander, but he might redshirt."
And Brady, who made the team as a walk-on, may need some more seasoning.
"He's a good athlete - a converted shortstop who is pitching now," Brontsema said. "He probably needs some time to develop, but he is a strike-thrower. With some arms in front of him, he might benefit by redshirting."
The Gauchos host their home opener on Monday Feb. 23 vs. Westmont and for the first time ever, fans can now purchase baseball season tickets for seats located at Field Level at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium or on the Reserved Level directly behind home plate by clicking here. Every season ticket purchase comes with a free hat, just like the ones the players wear on the field.
Single-game tickets are available by calling (805) 893-UCSB, visiting the Ticket Office located on campus in the Intercollegiate Athletics Office or by clicking here.