Gidel: Mid-Afternoon UK Baseball Fix

College Baseball

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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.

Gidel: Henderson’s Steady Voice Key to UK Success


Gary Henderson

John Cohen was a favorite of mine. From the moment he arrived in Lexington, I had an unhealthy “man-crush” on the guy that I believed could convince even David Koresh to drink the kool-aid first. My annual summer fling left me heartbroken when he departed the friendly confines of Lexington, Kentucky for the greener pastures of Starkville, Mississippi to chase his dream job coaching at his alma mater last June.

The hiring of Gary Henderson was albeit, a strange one. While the college baseball world was focused on the upcoming College Baseball World Series, the MLB Draft had just gotten underway when an email arrived in our inbox with a press release on the hiring of Henderson, sporting only a short line discussing the departure of Cohen, who had left to take another job. Former UK associate AD Greg Byrne, who had just taken over as athletic director at Mississippi State, moved so quickly in announcing Cohen, many UK fans hardly knew they had a reason to worry before the exit door slammed. That day was odd, but it may help to bring to light the circumstances surrounding why Gary Henderson was named UK’s baseball coach so abruptly and rightly so.

College Baseball doesn’t have many friendly windows for coaching searches. When a college baseball season concludes, the next phase is arguably a program’s most pivotal – the MLB Draft. When you recruit amongst the elite, this time becomes even more stressful for programs. After the 2008 season, UK had several young rising prospects which made up one of the top recruiting classes in the history of the school and most were getting their names called during the draft when the announcement of Cohen’s departure hit the wires. To make matters worse, rising senior Chris Rusin was drafted by the Athletics and was seeing dollar figures in excess of six-figures in an attempt to keep him from finishing out his college career and entering the draft again in ‘09.