Mid-Afternoon Baseball Fix
1) Disappointed that the Wildcats were not included in the first batch of rankings released after the weekend, despite sweeping all three games. From what I understand, some in the media are still not sold on the Wildcats pitching depth without senior James Paxton and junior Nick Kennedy. The good news is that Kennedy appears to be on course to return, at worst case, by conference play. According to SID Brent Ingram, while blogging during Sunday’s weekend finale, Kennedy threw from flat ground for the first time in pregame on Sunday and the hope is that Kennedy will be back by midseason.
2) So what did we learn from the first weekend of the season? UK can survive without Paxton for now. No doubt that Taylor Rogers was going to be a special pitcher, but after his starting performance against West Virginia on Saturday, it will be tough to send him back to the bullpen. Rogers retired the first 13 batters he faced, but most impressively he threw first pitch strikes to 25 of 29 batters. That is an incredible number. Everyone had commented on Rogers’ poise and he certainly did not disappoint throughout, limiting one of the nation’s best hitting teams from 2009 to just six hits in the shutout win. Not bad for a true freshman. As for the bullpen without Rogers, UK managed just fine. Freshman Jordan Cooper and transfer Matt Little were as impressive as most expected they’d be. If UK can continue to get some great stop-gap work out of its bullpen, the naysayers will be few and far between by the time conference play rolls around. Make no mistake about it, though, this team can make it to Omaha with Paxton and needs him to talk to the NCAA and get back on the mound.
3) With all the talk focused around the super sophomores, utility man Neiko Johnson continues to find ways to get on-base, drawing two walks, garnering three hits and getting plunked by three pitches for an on-base percentage of .62% over the weekend. He was 3-for-3 in stolen base attempts and scored 2 runs. If Neiko continues to find ways to get on, he’ll be a valuable weapon throughout the season. With his speed, UK really has a valuable weapon on the base paths and they’ll need him often if they have any hopes of manufacturing runs when the bats go cold at some point this summer.
4) Former Madison Central star Keenan Wiley continues to mash, adding one of the two home-runs hit in the 15-6 spanking of Virginia Tech on Friday. The redshirt senior came on late last year in SEC play and is hoping to keep his bat hot in the early going of 2010. With so much talent on the squad, sometimes Wiley gets lost in the shuffle, but he brings valuable leadership to the batting order and will continue to see some good pitches, as teams will look to pitch around Gunner Glad and Andy Burns, who hit ahead of him.
5) Disappointingly the Wildcats didn’t face off against a righty all weekend, so the lineup didn’t offer up the chance to see Cory Farris or Lance Ray, yet. Farris really came on at the end of last year and is another sophomore from the heralded 2009 class that will have an opportunity to do big things this year. Ray was a junior college addition out of Las Vegas. Both should see some AB’s this week.
Rob Gidel is a University of Kentucky football and baseball analyst for The Cat’s Pause.