WKU bullpen hopes to change perception

Lucas Aulbach

With a new season beginning Friday, senior right-hander Ross Hammonds said WKU’s young group of relief pitchers are going to surprise some people this year.

“We got a lot of new guys, and a lot of fans are going to come out and not really know who they are,” he said. “But I’m excited to see the fans get to see what I’ve been seeing. They’ve really been throwing well, and they have the stuff to really be special.”

Hammonds has every reason to hope the young faces in the pen will spell improvement, as the back end of the Toppers’ bullpen was one of the team’s biggest issues last season.

The Toppers recorded 13 saves last season, ranking second in the Sun Belt Conference. Still WKU allowed several late-inning leads to slip away.

First-year Head Coach Matt Myers saw each of those blown saves in 2011, serving as WKU’s pitching coach.

“We gave up nine wins last year at the end of the game, so I hope we’re improved,” Myers said.

Inexperience might be the biggest question mark with the bullpen at the start of the season.

Hammonds and junior right-hander Taylor Haydel are the only two major contributors from last year’s rotation returning this season.

New faces in the bullpen will include redshirt freshman right-hander Tate Glasscock and junior right-hander Colton Satterlee.

Additionally, sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman, a Freshman All-American in 2011, has been moved from the Saturday starter slot to closer role for at least this weekend’s series against Toledo.

“We’re young, which a lot of people were kind of worried about,” Hammonds said. “But the way that I’ve seen them throw this fall and leading up to this first game, I think we’re going to be fine.”

WKU has 12 pitchers on its roster right now, meaning the squad will have to get through the year without any major injuries to keep a full starting rotation and bullpen.

Haydel said the thinner staff will be able to carry the team.

“I think we have all the potential to be one of the best pitching groups here,” he said. “We obviously don’t have as many pitchers as we’ve had in the past, but… we’re all really capable of getting the job done on the mound.”

Myers said even if the pitching staff was bigger, it would still be whittled down over the course of the year to create a more effective lineup.

“No matter if you have 20 guys or 12, you’re trying to get to your top eight or nine,” Myers said. “So if the top eight or nine guys stay healthy and do what they’re supposed to do, then we’ll be fine there.”

Junior left-hander Tanner Perkins will be on the mound  at Nick Denes Field to start WKU’s season at 3 p.m. on Friday against Toledo.

Should Perkins fault or tire, Myers will turn the game over to the Toppers’ unproven bullpen.

Myers said experience will come for the young relief staff.

“Our guys just need to come out every day and do what they can to help us win, and if they can do that, then they’ll be fine,” he said.

“Will they be a little nervous out there? “Probably, but that’s okay.”