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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Monday, February 5, 2007

By Woody Peele

Godwin expects deeper, older club to excel

By Woody Peele
All rights reserved.

Billy Godwin has been fired at East Carolina!

Whoa, don’t get all excited.

Godwin did the firing himself — as pitching coach.

The Pirates’ head baseball coach, now in his second year, was thrust into the head coaching position after the “resignation” of Randy Mazey. Godwin had been hired as Mazey’s pitching coach and, after taking over, continued those duties.

But after last year’s collapse of the bullpen, Godwin knew what he had to do — get rid of the pitching coach and hire another. So he went looking and came up with Bill Jarman, a 17-year veteran of that position.

“He’s been tremendous,” Godwin said of his new assistant. “I just stay out of his way. I fired myself and brought in a good one. His philosophy matches mine and, so far, he’s been a huge asset.”

Last year’s starting pitchers started slow, and then took off. But at the same time, the bullpen got off to a good start, then stumbled down the stretch.

“We’ve done some things to shore up the bullpen,” Godwin said. “As good as our catching was (with Johnny Bench Award winner Jake Smith), we felt uncomfortable with the way the pen preformed. So we took Shane Mathews (5-3, 4.73 ERA) and put him in the closer role. It really makes me feel better his being out there in the ninth inning.”

Godwin said Jason Neitz (3-1, 2.06) did a good job last year as the closer, but had to be brought in earlier than planned on a number of occasions and it overexposed him.

“We needed set-up guys to get to Shane,” the coach said. “We’re going to have games where we need to bridge the gap between the fifth and ninth innings.”

Expected to see a lot of that duty are Mike Flye (1-0, 6.00), Chris Powell (0-1, 5.16), Neitz and Josh Ruhlman, a junior college transfer.

“They are all juniors and seniors, so I feel good about that corps of guys,” Godwin said.

Returning and expected to be the weekend rotation for the Pirates are T.J. Hose (3-4, 3.88), Jeff Ostrander (2-1, 3.67 in 2005) and Dustin Sasser (5-7, 4.55). Ostrander is returning after missing most of 2005 and all of 2006 due to Tommy John surgery.

“He hasn’t pitched in nearly two years, but he’s a guy I have a history with,” Godwin said, pointing out that Ostrander played under him at Louisburg. “He brings to the table what Brody Taylor (last year’s top pitcher) did. We weren’t expecting a great fall from him, but he had one.”

This year the Pirates will also try to guard against arm problems, what hexed them in 2006.

“So must emphasis is placed on pitch counts today,” the coach said. “But a trained eye is important, too. You have to get the guy when he starts laboring. Every guy is different, but when you see him missing up, for example, he’s tired and that’s when guys get hurt.

"The pitch count is important, but what we see is more important.”

In losing Jake Smith behind the plate, Godwin went into the fall with that position as the most worrisome. But so far, that concern appears to have been unfounded.

Transfer David Forbes, a Greenville Rose product, moved in from Campbell, and Corey Kemp came in from junior college. Between the two of them, Godwin feels he has two fine veterans. Backing them up are a pair of freshmen, Bobby Fowler and Austin Homan.

“Forbes and Kemp have looked extremely well,” Godwin said, “but we don’t want to compare them to Jake. It’s rare to get a guy who can hit 13 homers, drive in 65 runs and hit .344, but what they can give us is most important. They seem to command our pitching staff and control the running game.”

In past years, East Carolina has alternated catchers, depending on who is on the mound, and that’s a possibility this season.

“Some guys get comfortable with one (catcher),” Godwin said. “We ask our pitchers who they are comfortable with. We’re not at a point where one prefers one or the other, and we’ll let that come as the season develops. We have the flexibility that we don’t have to run one guy down.”

At the infield and outfield positions, the Pirates will place a number of returning starters or players who have a lot of experience.

“Last year when we were playing N.C. State, I looked at our lineup, and we had an all sophomore and freshman team. I thought I was back at Louisburg,” Godwin said with a laugh.

“This is going to play to our strength," he added. "We have guys who are battle tested. We’re also moving guys around, which shows our versatility. We have some depth.”

The starting lineup isn’t set yet, but Godwin said he and his staff have some ideas.

“We can play some platooning,” he said. “The cornerstones are always the guys up the middle. With (Dale) Mollenhauer (.292, 7 HR) and Drew Schieber (.245) we’re solid. Schieber has had an unbelievable spring.

“We’ve moved Harrison (Eldridge) (.336, 2 HR) to center from right,” he added. “We’ve just got a lot of candidates who could be in the lineup.”

Among those who played last season are Stephen Batts (.336, 1 HR), Brandon Henderson (.326, 4 HR), Jake Dean (.311, 2 HR), Ryan Wood (.289, 3 HR), Ryan Tousley (.285, 6 HR) and Jamie Ray (.300).

Newcomers Trent Ashcraft and Mark Letchworth are also expected to see action.

“We have the potential (for power hitting),” Godwin said. “Everyone loves the long ball and it’s great. I’d say that from three to seven we have the potential to hit 10 home runs each.”

But Godwin prefers solid basic hitting that produces and advances base runners.

“We have older guys out there and that makes for quality contact,” the coach pointed out. Sometimes power teams get shut down.

“But from top to bottom, we have speed and that excites me since we can run the bases. We’re not counting on the home run, but a hit could score runs. Speed, executing and quality contact are what we want.”

The Conference USA coaches have picked East Carolina to finish fifth — right in the middle of the nine-team league. And that’s fine with Godwin.

“I like to be the underdog,” he said. “Last year, I really didn’t have a feel for what the team could do. But after seeing the league, optimistically speaking, I think we have a chance to surprise some people.

"This is a good league that will challenge our players, but I haven’t seen anything that leads me to think this team won’t excel.”

The season opens for East Carolina when it opens a three-game weekend series with Liberty on Friday at 3:00 p.m. at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

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02/23/2007 02:44:54 PM

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