Perkins, Hageman to anchor 2012 pitching staff

Junior left-handed starting pitcher Tim Bado, center, laughs with teammates during practice on Feb. 8 at Nick Denis Field. Bado has, as of now, secured a spot as the Toppers’ Sunday starter.

Kurt Carson

WKU will lean heavily in 2012 on a 1-2 punch it boasts at the top of its starting rotation. 

The Toppers returns the duo of junior left-hander Tanner Perkins and sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman to their rotation for the second straight year. 

Perkins was named second-team All-Sun Belt Conference in 2011 while Hageman earned the league’s freshman of the year award.

Head Coach Matt Myers said he expects Perkins and Hageman to be a top 1-2 combination, with the experience they have helping them improve upon last year’s results.

“I think that experience is invaluable,” said Myers, who previously served as WKU pitching coach. 

“You can’t teach that. That experience of them being out there, going through their routines, getting their consistency and learning every week I think has allowed them to be potentially a very dominating two-man punch in the front of the rotation.”

Perkins posted a record of 7-4 last season and a 2.36 ERA that was best in the Sun Belt. Hageman finished his freshman season with an 8-5 record that accompanied a 3.22 ERA.

As the veteran of the rotation and the most experienced pitcher on the staff, Perkins said he expects himself to be a team leader.

“I’ve always been a leader by example, and I believe in that,” said Perkins, who will start the year as the team’s Friday night starter. “I hope I go out on Fridays and get the team behind me, keep them in the game and let the other guys follow behind me.”

After Perkins and Hageman — the team’s projected Saturday starter — comes a group of pitchers with less experience at the Division I level.

Myers said that junior left-hander Tim Bado, a transfer from Crowder Junior College in Eden Prarie Minn., has locked himself into the Sunday starting role for now. 

“They’ve both really helped me transition to the D-1 game,” Bado said of Perkins and Hageman. “They’ve just helped me on a day-to-day basis to get better and learn from their experiences.”

Myers said sophomore left-hander Austin Clay and freshman left-hander Ian Tompkins will start the majority of the midweek games.

Meanwhile junior right-hander Taylor Haydel, who started 10 games a season ago, has been reassigned as a reliever this year to add depth to the bullpen, Myers said.

Four of the Toppers’ five starters throw left-handed which provides a unique advantage for the Toppers.

“No one likes hitting off left-handers,” Myers said. “Left-handers are a premium and such a high commodity. I like having lefties being dominant because it really forces you to think about lineup changes.”

While Myers said he’s excited about the depth of the rotation, he also made it known that depth doesn’t take the place of guys like Perkins and Hageman.

“As much as you want to have depth, aces are titled ‘aces’ for a reason,” Myers said. “There’s a reason guys are known as the No. 1’s of a staff because they’ve kind of separated themselves, and that’s what those two guys have done for us.”