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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Baseball

Q&A: Astros revive baseball ahead of Red-White Series


With the Astros bringing baseball excitement back to Houston, Cougars head coach Todd Whitting feels the enthusiasm as his team prepares for the Red-White World Series on Nov. 1. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Head coach Todd Whitting’s baseball team bounced back from a rough 2016 season to win the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles. UH hosted the team’s second NCAA regional in three years and were one run away from hosting a super regional.

Whitting’s team and the Astros both grace Houston with World Series this week, as the ALCS champions finished facing off with the Los Angeles Dodgers and UH’s team faces itself in the annual Red and White series, which begins on Wednesday.

The Cougar: With the success the Astros have had this season, what’s it been like seeing the city get excited for baseball?

Todd Whitting: Well, obviously baseball in the city of Houston starts at the top with the Houston Astros, so it’s great to see them have that success. President Reid Ryan’s a really good friend of mine. Most of the kids on the team are hometown kids and Astros fans. So it generates overall excitement about the game of baseball, which is always great for us.

The Cougar: How has the team reacted to the Astros’ success?

Whitting: They’re locked in. A lot of the playoff games that have been on, some of those days games in the first two rounds, we had the game on here at practice over the PA system. They were kind of living and dying by each pitch as we kind of go through our practice. But it’s a buzz on the team. Guys are wearing all their Astros gear, and everybody’s pulling on them.

The Cougar: You have a few former players who were drafted by the Astros and are in the minor league system right now. Have you heard from them at all?

Whitting: A couple of those guys have been (on campus) already. Austin Pruitt’s in the rotation for the Rays on the big-league level, and (Jake) Scheiner’s been here so far this offseason. (Corey) Julks has been back. (Connor) Wong’s been around the office. Might also see (John) King here pretty soon. But as they get closer to have to report for spring training, those guys will all start working out here. It’ll be good to catch up with them.

The Cougar: You have the Red-White World Series coming up. How have the early stages of practice gone?

Whitting: I think it’s a veteran bunch; it’s a really confident bunch. I think it’s one that is preparing and practicing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder after not advancing to the NCAA tournament last year. But fall practice is a time to get better. It’s a time to learn about the new guys and see the development of your returning players. The Red and White Series is always a great way to end the fall. You’re under the lights, and you put the uniform on. There will be people in the stands. It’ll be a lot of fun to see these guys compete.

The Cougar: Has the team been hurt at all by the number of people who were drafted off of last year’s team?

Whitting: Well, I think those are three really good players we lost — those juniors we lost to the draft. But we have six, seven starters back, and we really only lost one pitcher out of the rotation: John King, a Sunday starter. So this sophomore class got a ton of playing time last year as freshman. We added a couple of JUCO kids I’m really happy with — a few freshman hitters that are doing well, and our pitching staff is really deep. There’s some guys that have made some jumps who had limited roles last year. Overall, I feel really good about going into the season.

The Cougar: Do you see someone coming out as the ace on this team after the weekend series?

Whitting: I think (Trey) Cumbie’s that guy, just from being Pitcher of the Year last year in the conference and an All-American — the success he’s had here for two years. So you lock him down as the Friday night starter, (and) you start filling in the slots for Saturday and Sunday and start putting your bullpen together.

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