Kyle Farmer and the Bulldogs open the season Feb. 15 at Ga. Southern.
Jan. 25, 2013
With an abundance of arms, a veteran defense, and all the ingredients for a balanced lineup, the 2013 Georgia Bulldogs look to be serious contenders in the Southeastern Conference.
Now in his 12th season at the helm, David Perno welcomes back five starting position players and eight pitchers who logged innings in 2012. Offensively, Georgia aims to be more productive in 2013; the defense should again be strong after fielding a school record .978 last year; and the pitching staff will take a unique approach early in the season.
Georgia’s hitters at the top of the lineup will be sophomore second baseman Nelson Ward and senior All-SEC third baseman Curt Powell. They are the prototypical 1-2 hitters. Ward, who swings from the left side, batted .277 in 44 games including 21 starts, seeing time at second base, centerfield and designated hitter. Powell, who started 55 games, led the team and ranked fifth in the SEC with a .355 batting average. Also, he was 12-for-16 in stolen base attempts while Ward was 4-for-5.
“Kyle and Hunter are experienced RBI-guys, and we feel good about them, as well as senior catcher Brett DeLoach. We want to create more balance and get a left-handed bat in there too so we’ll likely use sophomore Jared Walsh or freshman Daniel Nichols at five and put DeLoach at the sixth spot in the order,” said Perno. “One of the keys for our offense is to get production from our left-handed hitters.”
A three-year starter and plus defender, Farmer batted .302-4-41 as a junior and set a school record for a shortstop with a .977 Fielding Percentage. He was drafted in the 35th round by the New York Yankees and opted to return for his senior season. This past summer, he served as the starting shortstop for the USA Collegiate National Team. Cole is coming off a Freshman All-America season where he hit .276-7-23. DeLoach, a three-year starter, batted .303-1-21.
The rest of the lineup will feature a combination of freshmen utility Sean McLaughlin, first baseman J.T. Phillips and first baseman Morgan Bunting, sophomore outfielder Justin Bryan, redshirt freshman outfielder DJ Smith and freshman infielder Cody Sheedy.
Perno said he is excited to see the numbers that Bryan and Walsh can put up in a full season after both were limited in 2012. Bryan dealt with a variety of ailments and still managed to smash four home runs and drive in 13 in only 38 at bats. Walsh was coming back from elbow surgery last year and tallied just 51 at bats, mostly as a pinch-hitter or designated hitter.
Walsh along with McLaughlin will see time on the mound and at the plate in 2013. Also of note, Georgia will be without a couple returning starters in junior outfielder Conor Welton (shoulder) and junior catcher Brandon Stephens (elbow) as they will miss the 2013 season due to injuries.
“Our lineup has a chance to be explosive if Hunter, Justin, Brett and Kyle stay healthy, and everyone takes a solid approach at the plate. We’re looking to improve our on base percentage and get closer to hitting .300 as a team. We’ll be working with the hitters from the dugout and once they get to the plate, they can concentrate on having a good at bat and hitting the ball hard. We’ve tried to simplify things.”
The Bulldogs will build up their staff during the first part of the season using a novel approach. Georgia will enter each game with two designated starters who will combine to cover the first seven innings. From there, relievers will come in for specific matchups and may go as long as one inning.
“We feel like our strength is in our numbers; we potentially are 14-15 deep,” said Perno. “We’re going to try and keep the pitch counts for our starters between 65-to-70 and their innings to around 65 for the year. With the piggyback starter approach, we can limit the initial workload of our top relievers. Also, we want to be strong on Sundays, and this should help us do that.”
Georgia’s roster is full of veteran relievers, and they will be paired with the younger members of the staff. The three weekend starting combinations will feature freshman right-hander Sean McLaughlin with senior left-hander Blake Dieterich (3-4, 3.52 ERA, 7 SV, 46 IP), sophomore right-hander Luke Crumley (3-2, 3.86 ERA, 52.1 IP) with redshirt junior left-hander Patrick Boling (1-2, 5.62 ERA, 24 IP in 2011), and freshman right-hander David Gonzalez with senior right-hander Bryan Benzor (5-4, 4.95 ERA, 2 SV, 36.1 IP).
The leading candidate to be the midweek starter is sophomore right-hander Grant Earls, who is healthy now after missing 2012 with injuries and redshirting in 2011. Georgia’s top options out of the bullpen include sophomore right-hander Ross Ripple (2-0, 5.00 ERA, 18 IP) and freshman Palmer Betts plus sophomore left-handers Jared Walsh and Jarrett Brown (0-0, 3.65 ERA, 12.1 IP).
Also, Georgia will look to get contributions from sophomore right-hander Jay Swinford (1-1, 2.01 ERA, 31.1 IP), senior right-hander Earl Daniels (1-1, 4.02 ERA, 1 SV, 15.2 IP), redshirt junior right-hander Beau Buckler, sophomore right-hander Heath Holder, junior right-hander Dylan Cole along with freshman right-hander Austin Wallace. Georgia will be without its projected closer in sophomore right-hander Pete Nagel (1-1, 3.78 ERA, 3 SV, 52.1 IP) in 2013 due to an elbow injury.
“We’re going to miss Pete as the closer so we’re going to try a different approach with our pitching early in the season,” said Perno. “Guys like to know when they are pitching and how long they are going to be out there. We should be able to keep everybody fresh, and hopefully let them gain some confidence. We’ll see where we’re at by the time we get in to SEC play and see who emerges.”
Georgia’s 56-game schedule features 32 home games. The season will begin on the road at Georgia Southern (Feb. 15-17). The Bulldogs will play a three-game series with the Eagles who will return to Athens in 2014. Georgia opens its SEC schedule on the road at newcomer Texas A&M (March 15-17).
Even though the SEC has grown to 14 members, the league opted to maintain its 30-game conference slate in 2013, as each team will play 10 series. Georgia’s SEC home slate will be against Alabama (March 22-24), Missouri (April 5-7), Vanderbilt (April 19-21), Arkansas (April 26-28) and Florida (May 16-18). Along with facing the Aggies, Georgia visits Kentucky (March 29-31), Auburn (April 12-14), Tennessee (May 3-5) and South Carolina (May 10-12). The annual games with rivals Clemson and Georgia Tech plus the contest at Turner Field also are highlights on this year’s schedule. Also of note, the SEC altered the format and expanded the field for its annual baseball tournament.
The 2013 SEC Tournament will return to Hoover, Ala., for the 16th consecutive year and will increase from 10 to 12 teams. It will run from May 21-26. Seeds 5-12 will meet in a single elimination format on the opening day of the event, followed by traditional double-elimination play Wednesday-Friday. The tournament will return to single elimination on Saturday. The 12 teams are 1-12 with the two divisional champions and top four seeds guaranteed opening-round byes. The field will include the top teams from both divisions plus 10 at-large bids seeded 3-12 based on conference wining percentage.
Georgia is ranked No. 29 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason top 40 and not ranked in the top 25 polls released by Baseball America and USA Today/Baseball Coaches recently. From the SEC, Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are consensus top 10 teams in this year’s preseason polls. A team from the SEC has advanced to five consecutive National Championship Series in Omaha, winning three NCAA titles during that span. Georgia began this run by reaching the CWS Finals in 2008 while LSU (2009) and South Carolina (2010 & 2011) captured crowns. In the 2012 CWS Finals, Arizona defeated the Gamecocks.