Feb. 18, 2008
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by Sean Neugent
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa baseball team is in full swing preparing for its first game against Albany on Friday, Feb. 22, in Clearwater, Florida. The Pitching staff — coming off a less-than-stellar 2007 season — looks to turn the corner in 2008.
The Hawkeyes, who finished fourth in the Big Ten with a 31-23 overall record and 17-13 in conference play, have found depth both offensively and defensively that will help them contend for the Big Ten title and a possible NCAA Tournament berth. New additions include senior Matt Mossey, who transferred from North Dakota State after his coach resigned, and freshman Zach Kenyon, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the ninth round last year. Iowa’s pitchers combined for a 6.72 ERA last season.
“Matt (Mossey) contacted us,” UI head coach Jack Dahm said. “He got a release from the school and basically said his last year he is hoping to go somewhere where he can play for a championship. He is extremely loyal to his teammates at North Dakota State and also his former coach and he had an opportunity to leave. The biggest situation for him from what I understand is the head coach stepping down.”
The Hawkeye starting rotation is set to begin the season, but not in permanent ink, as the coaches will continue to evaluate the pitchers throughout the early going. Front runners for starting positions are senior Brock Alberts, juniors Nick Erdman and Steve Turnbull and sophomore lefty Michael Jacobs.
Alberts was mainly used in the bullpen last season, but showed tremendous potential as he was second on the team with a 3.47 earned run average in 11 relief appearances and one start. Alberts looks to be the ace of the staff this spring. Erdman had a 7-3 record in 12 starts and was named second team All-Big Ten, despite a 5.15 ERA. Turnbull will provide the strikeouts as he led the team with 44 last season during his 13 starts. Jacobs played the set-up role last year and posted a perfect 3-0 record as a freshman.
“I’m not positive what way we’ll go,” Dahm said. “The progress those guys have made from last year is tremendous. Steve (Turnbull) is a lot better right now than he was a year ago. He has more confidence and works very hard. Really the guy that might be throwing the best for us is Brock Alberts. At the end of the year we put him into the starting rotation and it made all the difference in the world for us. But then all of a sudden Mike Schurz, who is going to red-shirt this year because he had arm surgery, gets hurt, so we put Brock in as closer. Those four guys are going to do a great job.”
Other pitchers looking to break into the starting rotation are Kenyon, along with his freshman teammates Patrick Shatz and Tony Manville, and seniors David Conroy and lefty Andrew Porter.
“We’re bringing in freshmen that have good arms, but also real good secondary stuff. When you look at Manville and Kenyon, those guys could be starting pitchers for us right now and I’m sure they will get opportunities sometime, but they will be coming out of the pen early on.”
UI head baseball coach Jack Dahm
“We’re bringing in freshmen that have good arms but also real good secondary stuff,” Dahm said. “When you look at Manville and Kenyon, those guys could be starting pitchers for us right now and I’m sure they will get opportunities sometime, but they will be coming out of the pen early on. Zach (Kenyon) is a tough competitor and an emotional guy. He is going to have to learn a little bit because he is overly emotional — kind of a (Carlos) Zambrano on the mound. We are trying to pull him down. He has to learn when to show that emotion and when not to, because you don’t want to fire up your opponents.”
“Not so much of toning it down, but using my emotions in the right time of the game,” Kenyon said. “When I was out this fall there were times where I would get a little emotional in the wrong spot so he has been teaching me how to control that.”
The bullpen received more relief with Mossey, who will take on the closer position. Mossey started three years at shortstop at North Dakota State and will take over third base as junior Kevin Hoef, who played the hot corner last season, will be the leader of the defense at shortstop. In tight situations, Mossey will be yanked from third base to the mound to close out games. In that case, senior Kody McManis will take his position at third.
“Mossey brings it every day,” Dahm said. “His skills, athleticism…he is not one of the best athletes we have on the team. He has a tremendous feel for the game and he is one of those guys who make people around him better. It was a perfect fit for us. Our situation when we lost Jason (White), Travis (Sweet) and Dusty (Napoleon) in the draft, it opened up some money for us and also opened up a spot for us. Losing Dusty really took some leadership away and the opportunity for Matt to step in and be able to play third base for us and also be our closer. He is a two-way guy and he is a very competitive kid so we are very fortunate to have him.”
“I know they play hard here at Iowa,” Mossey said. “I’ve played against them the last two years and I really like the style they play and when I talked to coach Dahm, it just seemed like a natural fit for me. The last two years at North Dakota State I was a starting pitcher and I think that would be a little more taxing than being a closer. I like to play the game the right way, play hard-nosed all the time, going a hundred miles an hour the entire time.”
As Jacobs moved to the starting rotation, the set-up man will be either sophomore Kyle Heim or senior Jason Belk. Other players coming out of the pen will be senior Joe Singer as well as three left-handers — senior George Rasiarmos, junior Matt Douglas and freshman Nic Jensen. Senior Ben Geelan will be the catcher and signal-caller for the improved pitching staff.
The Hawkeyes will look at their pitching depth to be a powerful force when Big Ten action rolls around. Iowa will rely on the arms of the starting rotation and hope they can bring home a Big Ten title.
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