Countdown Continues: One Week Until Baseball's Opening Day

Feb. 15, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. (www.ucfathletics.com) - UCF woke up Friday morning with one thing on its mind: exactly one week until the season-opener. The Knights have been practicing as a team since Feb. 1 and have six more days of work to put in before Florida A&M invades Jay Bergman Field for a three-game series beginning Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m.

On Feb. 14, UCF sandwiched practice in between shooting individual profiles in front of a blue screen for the new video board, slated to be operational in March.

The Knights' pitching coach Craig Cozart opened up with www.UCFAthletics.com about his thoughts on his pitching staff and what fans should be looking for throughout the season.

Q: What will the starting rotation be for the first four games of the season, including vs. No. 6 Missouri Monday, Feb. 25?
A: The one thing we are sure of is that Jaager Good will be starting a week from today on Friday night. Kyle Sweat and Mitch Herold will be pitching the last two games of the series with FAMU, but we're not positive of the order yet. Mitch Houck will pitch against Missouri on Monday. So that's what our rotation looks like for the first week, and as we progress to our middle of the week games, that's when we will have a better idea of how that stacks up. With that being said, we have had a lot of guys throw very well, and the competition on the staff is tremendous. Everybody is scraping for innings.

Q: Is there one guy on the staff that would be considered a fifth starter right now?
A: Honestly, because of the kind of depth that we feel that we have right now we would probably look at the match-ups. I think that's the situation we are in, because we do have two other lefties that are throwing very well, Carmine Giardina and Brian Griggs, and likewise we have a lot of right-handers that have been throwing well, such as Austin Hudson, Cody Allen and Evan Stobbs. These are all guys that have shown the ability to be in a starting role. And I don't think we are being unrealistic right now to say that we do have that many people who are capable of starting.

Q: Will there be a lot of pressure on Evan Stobbs with him being a freshman and having to possibly take over first base for the injured Kiko Vazquez, as well as pitch?
A: That remains to be seen. Those are decisions coach Jay Bergman and coach Bryan Peters are going to have to make as far as what our offensive outlook is going to be heading into the first game. Defensively, we have several other guys besides Evan that can play first. Shane Brown has taken some reps over there. Colin Arnold played some first previously in his career. So while Kiko is a setback offensively and defensively, we have got other guys who will be able to fill in. Now it's just about getting our best offensive club out there.

Q: Since this will be the opening weekend, how short of a leash will the pitchers be on in terms of a pitch count?
A: They will be on a very, very strict pitch count, meaning 75-80 pitches. I cannot really foresee any situations where they will go beyond that. It's just not worth it at this point. Not only do we need to see what everybody is capable of doing, and not only do we need to get people experience, but we have got to be sure that with the way this season sets up, we've got to maintain everybody's health. So we are looking at 45 total innings a week for the staff, which is a big difference.

Q: During the season, when will the starters have the capability of going over 100 pitches?
A: I don't know if you can say that it's a set number of starts, or a set time period. This is something where you evaluate their stuff as they kind of get to the 90-pitch barrier or the sixth inning for example. Pitch count is one thing, but it depends on the intensity of those pitches. Just being out there for those innings is another factor that people don't talk about, just the wear and tear of physically and emotionally getting into the sixth inning and seventh innings. So that is something we will evaluate closely. Honestly, if we can get everybody into a rhythm, and if we truly have the depth that we think we do, I hope we don't have to push those guys beyond the fifth or sixth inning all year long. That way we maintain their best stuff deep into the season and we keep everybody in the bullpen sharp and ready to go as well.

We had thoughts of possibly putting together a rotation for the entire first weekend, meaning actually scripting who will be following Jaager, or who is coming in right after Kyle Sweat and Mitch Herold. But we decided that we don't have to because we have a match-up staff, which means we have guys like Cory Weech who can come in and use his best pitch, a slider. So we can bring him in against righties who struggle against sliders. Maybe he only gets two outs, but that's all we would need from him. Or you do bring in Brian Griggs to go three or four innings if you don't get the start you need. And we have that type of ability, and with Justin Weiss at the end, and Matt Manning who we are grooming as a secondary closer, we've got those capabilities. We also have guys like Paul Cinder who is an experienced older pitcher that can really occupy any role. And Caleb Graham, who is probably not going to be active for the first weekend simply because he is a little behind with his arm right now but ready for Central Michigan, is someone that we would have no issues with putting him into the rotation, having him come in the fifth inning or letting him finish a game. It will definitely be interesting, and the fans will be learning along with us. The beautiful thing about this pitching staff is that we have had guys come into games and throw strikes. If you don't have the anxiety of saying, `hey, this guy is going to come out here and possibly walk the bases loaded,' then we are in good shape. Another guy who is throwing really well, and I don't want to overlook him, is Brennan Dobbins. He is a four-pitch guy who is equally effective against righties and lefties, and can get a spot start and pitch in the middle. Matt Goodyear has made a great jump from last year too. I don't want to forget anybody, but I really haven't been disappointed with anybody so far. All of these guys will get innings.

Q: Has the energy level on the team progressed as the season keeps getting closer?
A: No doubt about it. I think for all of us this is new. We are used to coming back from the Christmas break and getting after it for basically two and a half weeks of intra-squad and then we play. Now we come back and we go back to our four-day strength and conditioning program and the individual workouts for three weeks. The beginning of the season is really not in sight. Then finally you start getting back on the field full time playing intra-squads, and you still say to yourself, `well, we still have another three weeks.' Our pitchers are tired of seeing our hitters and our hitters are tired of seeing our pitchers. It just kind of drives everyone crazy, but to their credit they have stayed focused on what they need to do. We are glad it's only a week away now.

Season tickets as well as single-game tickets to check out UCF baseball this year are currently available by contacting the UCF Ticket Office at 407-823-1000, or by going online at www.ucfathletics.com, the official site for UCF varsity sports. Also check out UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.