Mountaineers Open The Season Friday At Jacksonville
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When Ivan Gonzalez looks at the pitching staff, he sees plenty of potential with players who are proven.
What remains to be seen is whether the West Virginia catcher will get a rotation at full strength during some point of the season. That won’t be the case entering opening weekend this Friday, when the Mountaineers travel to Florida for a three-game set against the Jacksonville Dolphins. WVU chases that with four games in the Brittain Resorts Invitational just outside Myrtle Beack in Conway, S.C. the next weekend.
Michael Grove will not be available for the initial stretch of games after coming off a season-ending arm injury last year. The Wheeling, W.Va. native went 3-1 with a 2.87 ERA in nine appearances and had elevated himself into a weekend starting role in working into at least the seventh inning in four straight starts before the injury. Now, the junior right-hander will be evaluated month-to-month.
That leaves head coach Randy Mazey with a veteran ace in BJ Myers, a young power pitcher in Alek Manoah and Connor Dotson, a junior righty who also comes off an arm injury but has been throwing effectively in preseason bullpens. Right-handers Kade Strowd, Isaiah Kerns, Sam Kessler and Jacob Potack, among others, are also available, as is Braden Zarbnisky, a right-handed outfielder/pitcher.
Zarbnisky was named to a preseason first-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association as a utility player. He is just the seventh player in school history to earn preseason All-American accolades and the third in Mazey’s tenure. The junior led WVU in wins and saves last year at six apiece while going 6-2 with a 2.75 ERA, the second-best amongst pitchers who threw at least three frames. In 39.1 innings pitched, he struck out 46, fourth-most on the team, and allowed 12 earned runs on 35 hits.
The rotation for the first series has not yet been announced.
“They are really looking solid,” said Gonzalez, who enters his second full season behind the plate. “Everybody is working on their craft. (First year assistant coach Dave) Serrano is doing a really good job finding out what type of pitchers we have and what’s their strength and who does what in what situation. As of right now everyone is throwing strikes and filling it up and looking good as a staff.”
Serrano was hired after former WVU assistant Derek Matlock took the head coaching position at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Matlock was excellent at developing the staff, and continually used his Texas ties in recruiting. Serrano is a major name in the collegiate game after leading two teams to the College World Series in 13 seasons as a head coach at Cal State-Fullerton and Tennessee.
The California native has won 446 games as a head coach and was named the 2007 National Coach of the Year. One of just 12 coaches all-time to lead two different teams to the College World Series, Serrano has coached in seven CWS appearances, including the 2004 national title at Cal State Fullerton as an assistant coach.
“When you get to this level, every pitching coach has a little tweak here or there, something different,” Gonzalez said of working with the new assistant. “Other than that is has been the same, just the same repetitive throw strikes, fill it up and conditioning. Conditioning has been a big thing for our staff this year. We are stronger than ever right now and we have some good looking freshmen who can come in and do the job. We are excited to get started.”
Among those key freshman, according to Gonzalez, are infielder/pitcher Tristen Hudson (6-3, 178, Seneca, SC), catcher Connor Hamilton (6-1, 220, Forestport, NY) and infielder Tyler Doanes (5-10, 175, Fayetteville, Ga.), a player who Mazey said would push for immediate time.
“Big kid, big powerful guy who can definitely hit some home runs for us,” Gonzalez said of Hamilton, who set school records for batting average and hits in a season while being named the top catcher in New York by Perfect Game. “We are looking pretty good with the younger guys.”