Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Looking for a lefty, Walsh leans on rookies

Besides figuring out his weekend rotation, skipper Joe Walsh seems also to be using the Crimson’s nonconference schedule to identify a reliable lefthander that he can use at will out of the pen.

It’s an important role: many are the late-game situations where a critical out against an opposing team’s lefthanded slugger can be the difference between preserving a lead or blowing it, keeping a game close or seeing it slip away. During the stretch run of Harvard’s 2002 title run, southpaw Kenon Ronz thrived in this spot. Between Ronz and then-senior Mike Dryden, Harvard had a reliable lefty-righty combo setting up for that year’s closer, Barry Wahlberg. It made for predictable late-game situations, which, in turn, inspired confidence in close ballgames.

While much remains up in the air with regard to the respective late-inning roles of righties such as Steffan Wilson, Lance Salsgiver, Jason Brown and Taylor Meehan, among others, a hierarchy may be emerging among the team’s lefties. Senior Mike Dukovich entered the season as the incumbent, but has struggled in his first four appearances. Meanwhile, Walsh has displayed growing confidence in a pair of rookies: Ryan Watson and Hampton Foushee. Of the two, Watson makes for a particularly interesting case, since Walsh seems inclined to give him every chance of making the rotation, but both have been relied on-—and both have showed hints of promise—-in this early going.

Consider the trial-by-fire manner Walsh has utilized his two rookies, starting with Watson:

· In the team's second game against Florida, with Harvard trying to stay in striking distance down 4-0, Walsh brings Watson on for his first collegiate appearance with one out and a runner on third to face the lefthanded hitting Brian Jeroleman. Watson retires Jeroleman on a fly-out, though it's deep enough to get the run home, and later induces a groundout to retire the side. Despite encountering some expected jitters--Watson walked four, threw a wild pitch and committed a balk--he only allows one run, unearned in two full innings.
· In the seventh inning of Saturday's loss to Jacksonville, with two runs already home to grow the Dolphins' lead to 8-3, Watson is brought in to face the lefthanded-hitting Logan James with runners on second and third and just one out. He has a rough go of it, giving up four singles before getting the inning's final two outs.
· Then, just last night, Watson earns his first start against Barry. He struggled--he walked five and served up back-to-back gopher balls--but got four of his first five outs on Ks (all swings-and-misses), showing flashes of promise likely to earn him another shot at starting before the week is out.

Foushee has been introduced into the mix more gradually. He’s gotten just as many appearances, but they've been more abbreviated.

· Against Jacksonville last Friday, he went three up, three down in his first-ever inning of relief work.

· On Sunday's series finale with the Dolphins, Walsh brings in Foushee to turn around Jacksonville switch hitter Tony Bernazard after seeing Bernazard single from the right side off Matt Brunning an inning earlier. Bernazard hits into a fielder's choice, and Foushee, his job done, is lifted.

· Then, tonight, Foushee gets the ball with a man on second and one out in the sixth, and turns in a pretty solid performance. Take away two errors that weren't his fault but opened the floodgates for five unearned runs, and Foushee would have hurled 2.2 scoreless innings. As it is, his ERA still stands at 0.00 through his five innings this year.

What does all this mean? Nothing for sure, but in a crowded pen with plenty of righthanders who have yet to settle into a precise niche, Walsh seems to have certain plans in mind for his two young lefties. The hoped-for scenario may play out like this: Projected as a starter, Watson continues to get an open-ended audition to make the rotation, persisting as an option perhaps into the Ivy season as Walsh waits out his early control struggles. In the meantime, Walsh is fearless in inserting him in important relief situations, even to face righties and for extended stretches as merited. Foushee, for his part, gets a growing number of appearances, but on a situational basis. In time, he becomes a stabilizing influence in the go-to specialist role Walsh loves to reserve for a steady lefthander.


Dave said...

This is a good post ... mostly because it wasn't made by Schulyer Mann. Hopefully he doesn't come back to the site, we really don't need him finding ways to smuggle in unrelated material about his own playing career like he did in the last post. That was pathetic.

mb said...

I'm actually going to do the ill-advised thing and dignify this comment with a more thoughtful reply than it probably deserves. Partially because I think that whoever you are, Dave, you actually do care enough about this place to keep coming back.

I liked Schuyler's post. I'm at a real loss for where the so-called self-indulgence comes in--the only thing I can recall his mentioning about himself was that he didn't walk as much as he would've liked. This hardly seems self-serving. And I liked his take on his former teammates--no, it doesn't take an insider to say that Harvard's up against it playing Florida in its first games of the season in mid-March, but there were details in there that I really enjoyed. More to the point, Schuyler's actually having played for the team brings something to the table Brian and I don't, and having played with most of the current guys (and caught the pitchers) adds a lot as well.

I'm pretty heavily disinclined to start deleting comments I don't like, but I'm not going to abide cheap shots at good people, especially when the comments are anonymous and out for all to see. If you've got a real problem with this, the e-mail address is bartbrush [at] gmail.com. Let's talk.