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Pitching Key for Sooner Baseball in 2005
February 07, 2005
NORMAN, Okla. -- With a completely revamped rotation, Larry Cochell has no doubt the main concern for his Oklahoma baseball team will be pitching.

The Sooners, who finished second in the Big 12 a year ago, lost starters David Purcey and Mark Roberts from the front of their rotation and closer Jarod McAuliff to the Major League Baseball draft. The trio combined for 24 of the Sooners' 38 wins last season.

In their place, Oklahoma expects to start a lefty coming off elbow surgery, its top reliever from last season and any of a number of newcomers.

But that's OK with Cochell.

''We had a lot of innings with guys who aren't here, but we feel like our junior-college pitchers are going to be able to adapt based on what we've seen,'' Cochell said.

Left-hander Garrett Patterson returns healthy after making just one start between surgeries last spring. He'll likely be joined in the rotation by Daniel McCutchen, who started twice last season but made 33 appearances out of the bullpen, and one of four junior-college transfers -- P.J. Sandoval, Steven Guerra, Will Savage or John Brownell.

Cochell said McCutchen, who struck out 60 batters in 57 innings last season, will start the season in the rotation, but could eventually move back to the bullpen and perhaps close.

Senior catcher Matt Bose said the staff will be much different without fireballers Purcey and Roberts. Purcey was a first-round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays and Roberts went in the eighth round to the Texas Rangers.

''This year, we're not going to be overpowering,'' Bose said.

''We're not going to throw as hard. We're not going to blow people away. But I think, as a whole, they throw more strikes, hit spots and location, which is a lot of what pitching is about.

''It's going to make us better in the long run.''

Along with Bose, the Sooners return second baseman Russell Raley, shortstop Ryan Rohlinger and center fielder Jeff Scuderi for a strong defensive core up the middle. Cochell said several players are competing for the corner outfield positions.

''This is a team with a lot of young members, a lot of new faces, but at our key positions, we have returners,'' Cochell said. ''I think we have good leaders and great role models for our young players beginning the program.''

Cochell said he likes the balance of his lineup -- with right-handed and left-handed batters and with speed and power.

''This is the kind of club that we can do some things offensively,'' Cochell said. ''We have some really good athletes and we have really good foot speed.''

Cochell said the lineup should be more solid from top to bottom and shouldn't have to depend on one player for all of its production. Last season, the team relied heavily on Ole Sheldon, who had a team-best 54 RBIs.

''We really feel balanced in what we're going to be able to do,'' Cochell said. ''Are we going to hit a whole lot of home runs? No, but we're going to have a lot of doubles and triples because of our ability to run.''

Eric Thornton, who hit .337 with 39 RBIs and tied for the team lead with eight home runs last season, will provide a steady switch-hitting bat in the middle of the lineup while Raley, Rohlinger and Bose supply consistent hits all around him.

''I think we're real solid as a lineup,'' Bose said. ''We're going to be pretty powerful in the middle, but then we have a lot of skill guys and we have a lot of speed.''

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