Bounce back in the box

As the saying goes, “Chicks dig the long ball.”

If we learned anything from last season, those chicks are going to have to learn to “dig” something else.

Offensive production was down throughout college baseball last season as a result of a switch from aluminum to new pitcher-friendly composite bats.

The impact of the switch was reflected in the Cougars’ offensive production. The Cougars’ home run total dropped from 44 bombs in 2010 to just 19 in 2011.

UH finished in the bottom third of almost all offensive statistical categories in Conference USA — sixth in batting average and hits; seventh in home runs and total runs. They also led C-USA  in strikeouts.

“The type of offense we run is not always indicative with batting average,” head coach Todd Whitting said. “I thought last year we, in certain situations, swung the bat well.”

Whitting, entering his second season at the helm of the program, has a revamped team and is looking to get more production out of the lineup.

“We welcomed 20 new players to the program and returned 14 lettermen,” he said. “Offensively, we’re going to be fastball aggressive. Like most teams, we are going to sit there and wait on pitchers to make mistakes. We’re going to try and use the entire ballpark.

“Really, it’s more of a pressure-type attack. Anytime we get base runners on, we’re going to try and force the action on the other team; make them handle the baseball and force them to make plays.”

Despite having a plethora of new players on the squad, some familiar faces will still be anchoring the team. Senior John Cannon returns to handle duties behind the plate. Junior Chase Jensen will be in the six-hole and sophomore Landon Appling will patrol centerfield.

But that still leaves five positions to be filled by the newcomers. That may be where the Cougars run into some problems.

“We have 20 players on this team who have never played in a Division I game,” Whitting said. “We’re going to play a great deal of freshmen this year from time to time, and even with junior college players there’s a transition. So trying to get over that hump of transition is a big goal for us.

“So, this is a concern with our staff as we mesh our new players with the old ones.”

Some upgrades happening in and around the field may help as well. One, in particular, might put a few runs on the scoreboard.

“We just put a new banner up in the left field bullpen. It’s really going to jump out and add a lot to the ballpark,” Whitting said. “But, the biggest project this year is the new outfield fence. We’re going to a professional style padded wall. We’ll have a four-foot padded fence down the sides.”

“I did make a major ground-rule change. The batter’s eye out in center field will now be a home run. If you hit it out there that far, it should be a home run.”

We’ll find what the offense is all about soon enough; opening day is just three days away.

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