Cougars attempt to declaw Bobcats
The Cougars will get their 2010 baseball season underway at 6:30 p.m. today when they begin a three-game series against Texas State at Cougar Field.
UH is anticipating an exciting campaign this season after a disappointing finish last year.
After three consecutive seasons of at least .500 baseball, the Cougars went 27-31 overall in 2009 and tied for third in Conference USA with a 13-11 record.
While most teams that finish under .500 have many problems, one area that stood out for the Cougars was pitching. UH’s team ERA last season was 5.48. Only one pitcher with at least 50 innings had an ERA under 4.00.
Head coach Rayner Noble said the staff relied too much on raw talent to get by and paid the price for not focusing on location.
“I think that we just started out so bad that guys were just throwing too many pitches down the middle of the plate, and up in the zone. We did more throwing early last year than we did pitching,” Noble said. “We’ve definitely got to pitch the ball a lot better for us to get off to a good start.”
Noble is looking for his pitchers to think more on the mound and maintain their focus to be effective.
“We have very good arms. I think if they temper themselves on the mound, and don’t let things get to them, our starting pitching could be a strong point on this team,” Noble said.
One of the Cougars’ key starting pitchers, Jared Ray, is expected to be out until late March while rehabbing a shoulder injury. Other than that, the Cougars are in decent shape as far as health to start the season.
“We’re holding our own right now,” Noble said. “We’ve got some guys that are a little bit tender just from throwing, and we just got to monitor a few of those guys, but we’re in good shape.”
One of the strengths for the Cougars last season was their defense, as proved by their 76 errors. Only two players committed more than 10 errors in the field.
Noble hopes this year’s nine can improve on those figures.
“Our defense should be pretty good,” Noble said. “If we show some range, I think it’s got a chance to be outstanding. We won’t really know until … we start playing.”
As for what to expect in the batter’s box, UH has its work cut out this season. As a team last year the Cougars hit a respectable .282, but slugged only .388.
“We’ll put up more slugging numbers — doubles, triples, and home runs. We’ve got some guys that have some pop,” Noble said. “I would like to think that we’ll have four guys in our lineup that’ll hit 10 or more home runs, and we have a couple of guys that can hit 15 to 20, if they have good seasons.”
The Cougars, though, might have to prove their potential right out of the gate as they face a dynamic offense in the Bobcats, who went 41-17 in 2009. The Bobcats’ team batting average last year was a remarkable .334.
“There’s an old adage that good pitching will always wear out good hitting,” Noble said. “So we’re going to have to rely on our guys we’re putting out on that mound to be productive. We can’t be falling behind in the count and be giving them better pitches to hit.
“The key for us, all season, is our pitching being above average.”
Throwing the first pitch for the Cougars will be right-hander Michael Goodnight, who went 5-5 last season with a 4.43 ERA in 13 starts.
The Cougars will play the Bobcats at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Cougar Field to wrap up the three-game set.