Gary Powers has a basic philosophy when it comes to winning baseball games.
“Everything starts on the mound,” the Nevada Wolf Pack baseball coach said.
Well, if that’s the case, the 2013 Wolf Pack could get off to a running start this season. The Pack returns its top three starting pitchers from a year ago in Tom Jameson, Bradey Shipley and Tyler Wells as it prepares to open the season Friday for the start of a four-game series with the Kansas Jayhawks in Mesa, Ariz.
“That’s a good place to start,” Powers said of his big three of Shipley, Well and Jameson. “Those three are the leaders of the staff, they’ve been to battle and all three had great fall (practices).”
Shipley’s fastball is already topping out at 97 miles an hour and it’s only February. The 6-foot-3 right-hander was the Western Athletic Conference’s Pitcher of the Year last year when he went 9-4 with a 2.20 earned run average in 15 starts.
“I’m real excited for this season,” said Shipley, who was the Pack’s starting shortstop as a freshman in 2011. “We have our full starting staff back. It could be a real fun year.”
The 6-foot-7 Jameson was also one of the top pitchers in the WAC last year when he went 7-2 with a 2.27 ERA as a junior.
“I fell real good,” said Jameson, who added 10-15 pounds during the off-season and is now 245 pounds. “This is the strongest I’ve felt in a while.”
Wells had an up-and-down freshman year last year, finishing 3-5 with a 6.42 ERA. The 6-3 left-hander, though, is a nice complement to Shipley and Jameson, two right-handers.
“He pitched a lot of last season with a sore arm,” Powers said. “He’s been looking real good.”
Shipley, who has drawn considerable attention from major league scouts, is ready for a huge season.
“Last year was an experience thing for me,” he said. “I hadn’t pitched in a couple years, since high school. This year I have that experience and I have a lot of confidence.”
Shipley said all of the starting pitchers help push each other.
“T.J. (Jameson) and I are real good friends,” Shipley said. “And we’re very competitive. We push each other everyday we’re out here.”
Shipley likes what he sees of the 2013 Wolf Pack.
“Our team chemistry is there,” he said. “We’re all pulling on the same rope. We have the talent. The ability is there. Last year we lost a lot of close games. This team has the ability to get through those games and win them.”
Powers expects all three of his top starting pitchers to be as good or better than they were a year ago.
“You can’t replace experience,” he said. “Experience is the key to success."
The question with the pitching staff is the bullpen. Gone from the 2012 staff are relievers Tim Culligan (20 games, 2.27 ERA), Jayson McClaren (19 games, 3.00 ERA) and Matt Gardner (24 games, 13 saves) as well as Elliot Van Gaver (19 games, 7.90), Troy Marks (14 games, 10.05) and Bryan Suarez (13 games, 5.79).
“Guys like Culligan and McClaren could come in and stabilize games for us,” Powers said. “They could give us two or three innings and give us a chance to get back in the game. We have the people who can step into those roles but they just haven’t done it at this level yet.”
The bullpen has some familiar faces back in Barry Timko (4-0, 4.91), Daniel Levine (0-2, 5.87), Kody Gorden (16 games, 6.28), Colby Blueberg (1-3, 5.09), and Sean Prihar (1-1, 4.42). It also has a lot of new faces, like freshmen Michael Fain (Clovis, Calif.), Adam Whitt (Carson High) and Mark Reese (Roseville, Calif.) and junior Brent McMinn (transfer from Pacific).
“The key to this team is our bullpen,” Powers said. “We need some young kids to grow up in a hurry. We lost a lot of experienced guys from our bullpen from last year.”
The Pack also lost three experienced players out of their everyday lineup. Gone from the 2012 starting lineup are second baseman Joe Kohan (.305, 32 RBI), third baseman Garrett Yrigoyen (.288, 16 RBI) and catcher Carlos Escobar (.283. 38 RBI). Escobar, with five home runs, was also one of the few power threats in the Pack lineup.
“We don’t have a lot of bona fide power,” Powers said. “But we do have a nice blend of speed and average guys. We have a lot of guys from top to bottom that can handle the bat.”
Kewby Meyer and Brett Jones return at first base. Meyer hit .324 with 34 RBI as a freshman and Jones hit .299 with 17 RBI as a junior. The two, though, each hit just one home run and both hit left-handed. One of them will likely be the designated hitter against right-handed pitching while the other plays first. Hugo Hernandez, who got just nine at-bats last year because of an injury, is also back at first and will likely see the bulk of his playing time as the DH against lefties.
Newcomer Scott Kaplan, a transfer from Irvine Valley College, is expected to replace Kohan at second. Kaplan hit .397 at Irvine as a freshman with 27 runs but fell to .255 last year with eight RBI as a sophomore.
Kyle Hunt, who hit .246 with 19 RBI as a freshman, is back at shortstop and Austin Byler (.276, four home runs, 22 RBI) returns at third.
Ray McIntyre (three at-bats in 2012) and newcomers Shaun Mize (freshman from Roseville, Calif.) and Bryce Barger (junior from Fresno City College) will back up Kaplan, Hunt and Byler in the infield.
Ryan Teal, who hit .244 in 41 at-bats last year, and newcomers Joe Setum (junior from Sacramento City College) and Collin Theroux (freshman from San Mateo, Calif.) will compete for time as Escobar’s replacement behind the plate.
The outfield will consist of Brad Gerig, Jay Anderson and Tommy Niebergall in left, Jamison Rowe and Anderson in center and Brooks Klein and Niebergall in right. Curtis Frisbee could also see his first action as a Pack player in right.
Gerig, a junior transfer from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., is expected to start in left. The 6-foot-2 Gerig hit .318 with four homers and 37 RBI at Sierra last year. Anderson hit .286 with 36 runs scored, five doubles, five triples, 19 RBI and 10 stolen bases as a freshman in 2012.
Rowe hit .278 with 15 RBI as a junior. Niebergall hit .279 in 68 at-bats.
Klein was the Pack’s top run producer a year ago with a team-high eight homers and 42 RBI on a .335 average.
“All I’m trying to do is get better every year,” said Klein, who spent his first two seasons at Western Nevada College. “I just want to keep improving.”
The Wolf Pack finished 32-25 overall last year and won the WAC regular-season title at 11-7. They were, however, eliminated from regional consideration when they got swept in two games in the conference’s postseason tournament.
“We were a real young team last year,” Powers said. “We had to play a lot of freshman and guys who never played at this level. But a lot of guys stepped up. We’re still young. Those freshman are now just sophomores. But we gained a lot of experience last year. They know what it means to compete at this level now. But now we have to continue to improve.”