Jan. 9, 2004
Each week before the start of the baseball season, GoLobos.com will provide an in-depth look at the different aspects of this year's team, including pitching, catching, infield, outfield, schedule and overall outlook. This week, the Lobo pitching staff is previewed. The Lobos begin practice Friday, Jan. 16 in preparation for their home opener at Isotopes Park Feb. 20.
LOBO PITCHING STAFF
The pitching staff is almost a complete overhaul of last year's team, with only two letterwinners returning. However, the Lobos add six hurlers with junior college experience along with four freshmen. In addition, five pitchers on the staff are left-handed.
"In the fall, we really developed our pitching depth and got a good feel for what each pitcher can contribute, which was a big positive," Alday said.
The weekend rotation is minus James Vermilyea, who was drafted last June in the ninth round, but is stronger and deeper overall. After fall practice, Cooper Eddy, Petr Pacas and Darren Coltrinari are slated to be the three weekend starters.
Eddy, a junior, transferred to UNM after one year at Iowa Western Community College and Tennessee Tech. He throws in the low 90's, possesses a good curveball and straight change, and is learning how to control his cut-fastball.
"Cooper is looking pretty good," said Alday. "He's a complete guy, and has a chance to get drafted this year. He also holds runners and fields his position well. We're expecting good things from him this season."
Pacas is also a junior college transfer after pitching two seasons for Porterville College in California.
"Petr is a competitor, a bulldog - he'll go right after the hitter," coach said. "He has good location with his pitches and throws in the upper 80's. He has a good changeup, and his split-finger is one of his better pitches."
Coltrinari started eight games in the conference and 10 overall last season. The sophomore was third on the team with over 70 innings on the mound his freshman season and collected three wins along with 37 strikeouts.
"Darren's another pitcher that will go right after the hitter, a bulldog just like our other two starters," Alday said. "He does need to develop a little more consistency with his curveball and changeup, but he will definitely keep us in the game when he's on the mound."
While the starting rotation is set heading into the season, it could see some changes throughout the spring. Two transfers who had solid fall seasons - Jason Fernandez and Karsten Gaarder - will be the primary middle relievers and weekday starters, but could possibly see time as weekend starters as well.
The staff has an influx of lefties this season with five southpaws on the roster. Senior Joe Salas, the team's primary designated hitter, will be the closer after notching four saves and striking out 27 batters in 24.1 innings last season. Freshman Jackie Smith impressed the coaching staff in the fall and will have the opportunity to make several appearances. Fellow freshman Danny Ray Herrera has effective off-speed pitches and will look to slow the bats of opponents, while junior Mike Smith will be used as a situational reliever. Junior Lucas Smith, a transfer from Vernon America College, did not pitch in the fall due to an injury and is still questionable for the spring.
"The one thing I like is that this is probably the most depth pitching-wise I've had since I've been here," said Alday. "We've always had one or two strong guys, but it tailed off from there. So far, we've been pretty consistent with our ball-strike ratio and staying ahead of the hitters.
"A lot of our pitchers will only pitch for an inning or less," coach continued. "As a staff, we told them not to look at how many innings you pitch, but how many appearances you make."
One of the many challenges facing the pitching staff is the mile-high altitude of Albuquerque, a factor commonly known to benefit hitters.
"The pitchers really worry about that," said Alday. "We try and tell them not to worry about their ERA and solo home runs - you can't control those things. But the things you can control are first-pitch strikes, changing speeds, walks and getting ground balls