Originally Published: Feb 17, 2010 2:12 PM CDT
Oklahoma Sports Staff Writer
NORMAN, Oklahoma -- Given the chill that has rolled over the state, one could understand if the Oklahoma Sooners bats have been somewhat slow to thaw.
Sooners’ coach Sonny Golloway is just fine with the moderate pace.
“The feeling on my face pretty much sums up our preseason so far,” he said, bringing his hand to his face, perhaps ensuring it wasn’t frozen. “Our guys have really had to do a good job of staying focused and concentrated.”
With a new indoor hitting facility at their disposal, the Sooners instead practiced the little things instead of jumping headlong into the season.
2010 looks bright for the club, which is ranked in the preseason for the second straight year. The Sooners open as the No. 22 team in the nation according to the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll. The team opens its season in California against Tony Gwynn’s San Diego State Aztecs.
One such benefit of easing into the season for Golloway was keeping his pitching on a tight schedule.
“We’ve been able to keep our pitchers in rhythm,” said Golloway. “The most important thing?was getting our pitchers back in shape so they can start getting their pitch count up.”
The Sooners will deploy a new-look starting lineup, including Friday night starter Zach Neal who transfers over from Junior College National Champion Howard College.
“We need consistency and we think Zach’s going to be able to give us that,” said Golloway. “He’s a tireless worker. You don’t have to tell Zach what he needs to do between starts; he showed us that in the fall.”
He’ll be one of three new pitchers in Golloway’s rotation, but it’s the bullpen that returns much of OU’s proven talent. Last season, third team All-American Ryan Duke led the Big 12 with 16 saves. Despite the outgoing experience in the rotation, shifting Duke from his closer’s role was never much of a consideration.
“We didn’t even give it any thought,” Golloway said. “I think we show the importance and the value of Ryan Duke [by] leaving him in [the closer’s] role.”
Senior Jeremy Erben and junior Michael Rocha also return to aid the pen.
On offense, Big 12 Freshman of the Year Garrett Buechele will man the hot corner. Voted a team captain, his role as both a player and motivator are bound to expand in 2010.
“He grew a lot in that first year; he showed what he can do,” said Golloway. “He understands his role on the team and his role has grown significantly. He was a tremendous bat for us last year.”
“Last year, I kind of had the yips, you could say,” said Buechele. “I wasn’t as confident and I wasn’t as smooth with my playing. Towards the end of the year, I got more comfortable and I was playing well. I’m going to try to carry that over to this year.”
He returns with outfielders Casey Johnson – 7 home runs last season – and Chris Ellison - .316 batting average – and Cameron Seitzer, Ross Hubbard and Tyler Ogle.
The vacant right field spot will likely go to junior college transfer Ricky Eisenberg.
Cameron Seitzer will man first base while the Sooners will look at some new options at the middle infielder spot.
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