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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Baseball

Cougars think they have an ace in their pen, open season with new faces on staff


Satchel Paige once said, “My pitching philosophy is simple — keep the ball away from the bat.”

The Cougars’ pitchers will try to do just that this season.

Last season, the Cougars’ pitching staff was riddled with injuries and they ranked toward the back of the pack in Conference USA pitching statistics  — seventh in team ERA (4.56), eighth in hits allowed (585) and last in runs allowed (335).

“Pitching was our weakness last year because of depth,” head coach Todd Whitting said. “We had some talented kids, but we just ran out of pitching at certain points throughout the year.”

Over the offseason, the Cougars’ coaches added that much-needed depth. They now have 17 pitchers on the roster and they have solidified several roles.

Jared Ray will be the Friday night starter. Jordan Lewis will go on Saturdays and Aaron Garza gets the nod on Sundays and Matt Hernandez will most likely take the hill on Tuesdays according to Whitting.

“Pitching is our strong point this season,” Whitting said. “I’m really excited about what we have. Our staff is very healthy for this time of year.”

Last year’s starters have also noticed the difference with all the new arms on the staff.

“It’s a big difference,” Ray said. “Now we have competition for spots. Last year we were looking for people to pitch day-to-day. Now guys aren’t going to pitch unless they’re at the top of their game.”

Coming out of the bullpen, Jordan Mannisto will serve as the set up man for newly-named closer Mo Wiley.

As a former starter, Wiley brings three years of experience with him to the bullpen.

“It’s a new chapter in my book here at UH,” Wiley said. “Now, as a closer, I am able to go from having to conserve energy to being able to give max effort.”

The closer role is vital to Whitting. After losing several leads in the other team’s last at bat last season, he will be leaning heavily on Wiley’s right arm.

“It’s not uncommon for me, over the course of my career, to be on coaching staffs who have taken one of their best pitchers and made him the closer,” Whitting said. “It’s the hardest three outs to get in baseball.

“He has the ability to throw in short stints, low-to-mid 90s, with a swing-and-miss breaking ball and change-up.  That’s what you look for in the ninth inning.”

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