WKU will opt for young pitching rotation on opening weekend

WKU will opt for young pitching rotation on opening weekend

Brad Stephens

The Toppers will start a youth movement on the mound this weekend.

Sophomore Tanner Perkins will pitch for WKU on Opening Day at 3 p.m. Friday against Bowling Green State, Head Coach Chris Finwood said Wednesday.

Finwood also said sophomore Taylor Haydel and freshman Justin Hageman will pitch games two and three of the series at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

All three home games will be played at Denes Field.

Finwood said the three young pitchers set themselves apart as candidates for the weekend starting jobs.

“They’ve just been our most consistent guys,” Finwood said. “Things can certainly change, but going into the season those are the three guys who have earned those spots right now.”

Finwood will turn to Perkins, Haydel and Hageman to replace the productivity of the graduated Matt Ridings and Shane Cameron, who combined for 13 wins as weekend starters in 2010.

Among the three young arms, only Perkins has had a significant number of college starts. The left-hander started 12 games in 2010, compiling a 3-4 record with a 5.27 ERA and 43 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Haydel made just three starts a season ago, though he appeared in 18 other games out of the bullpen. He had a 3-4 record with a 6.94 ERA and 37 strikeouts.

Hageman will make his college debut Sunday afternoon. Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 32nd round of last year’s MLB Draft, he had a 1.32 ERA in his senior season at Hopkinsville High School.

Perkins said that as the weekend staff’s most experienced pitcher, he is trying to assume a leadership position.

“Coach picked me on Friday night for a reason,” Perkins said. “I think I’m a good leader for the staff, and I’m ready to go out and play.”

Helping the pitchers will be the return of senior catcher Matt Rice, one of three Toppers selected to the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team.

Perkins said the way Rice handles pitchers will be beneficial to WKU’s young staff.

“If a game starts speeding up on a young guy, he’ll come out and slow it down for you,” Perkins said. “He never takes a pitch off, and he always alerts you if something is going on that you don’t know about.”

Rice said the staff has an “immense amount of talent,” and the inexperience of Haydel and Hageman isn’t a concern to him.

“We know there’s some lacking in starts there, but Taylor’s given us quite a few innings, and Justin has had a great fall,” Rice said. “Whatever we lack in experience we’ll gain throughout the course of the season.”

While the Toppers lack some starting pitching experience, they hope to make up for it with a core group of veterans on the field and in the bullpen.

The right side of the infield will consist of sophomore first baseman Ryan Huck and junior college transfer Ivan Hartle at second.

On the left side, juniors Casey Dykes and Logan Robbins will return at third base and shortstop, respectively.

In the outfield, juniors Jared Andreoli and Preseason All-Sun Belt team member Kes Carter will start in left and center field. Newcomer Ryan Hutchison, a JUCO teammate of Hartle, gets the nod in right field.

WKU’s third Preseason All-Sun Belt team member, junior pitcher Rye Davis, will return as the closer.

For the Toppers to win this weekend’s series, they will have to find a way to keep BGSU shortstop Joe Berti off the bases.

The junior had 29 stolen bases and a .423 batting average for the Falcons in 2010, sparking the team to its third consecutive Mid-American Conference East Division championship.

But regardless of the opponent, Rice said after months of intrasquad scrimmages and practices, WKU is ready for new competition.

“Everyone is just ready to play against someone in a different-colored uniform,” Rice said.