Alabama baseball ready to put 2017 season in the past

Alabama baseball ready to put 2017 season in the past
CW File

It’s been 261 days since the last game of Alabama baseball's dismal 2017 season. The team has done almost everything to move on from the 19-34-1 record it posted that year. The only thing left to do is play Valparaiso on Friday.

“I’m really excited,” first year head coach Brad Bohannon said. “We’ve been together six months. We’ve grown a lot in every area. Just excited to see what it looks like.”

Junior pitcher Sam Finnerty will get the opening day start, while senior pitcher Jake Walters takes the mound on Saturday.

“It’s exciting,” Finnerty said. “I’m very grateful that Bo’s given me this opportunity, and I’m excited. We’ve been practicing really hard as a team and we’re ready to go play.”

Finnerty finished last year with a 4.60 ERA in his 19 appearances last year. He said the biggest improvement from the offseason was consistency.

Alabama’s pitching has been a concern ever since Bohannon took over in June. The pitching staff was inconsistent to say the least last year. The Crimson Tide finished almost dead last in the SEC in ERA. The team finished with a 4.83, beating out Mississippi State [4.94] and Georgia [5.03] for the bottom of the conference. 

During the fall, the Crimson Tide was beat up. Bohannon was only able to see his full pitching staff during the last three weeks. 

“Depth [in pitching] is a challenge for every college team the first weekend,” Bohannon said. “I would expect darn near everyone on our staff to get a chance to pitch in the first four or five games. That’s good for us. I think we are less familiar with our pitching staff than most coaching staffs around the country."

Bohannon said that the injuries to the pitching staff will cause him to try different pitchers in different spots. The first four to six weeks will involve Bohannon giving each of his pitchers a chance to make an impact.

The big boost for the Crimson Tide’s staff is that Garret Rukes and Brock Love will both be available for the opening series. Both underwent Tommy John surgery last March.

Defensively the strength of the Crimson Tide is its infield. Junior transfer Jett Manning has taken over shortstop, moving Chandler Avant, who started almost every game at shortstop the last two years, to second. Cobie Vance is now at third base. 

“We’re going to find whatever helps the team out the most,” Avant said. “If that’s what helps the team out the most, then we were more than glad to do that. We’re going to do our best effort at those other two positions.”

Alabama will be without outfielder Chandler Taylor and right-handed pitcher Deacon Medders for the entire series because they violated team rules.

“Those guys have been great in the preseason,” Bohannon said. “Really excited about both of them, and expect them to be a huge part of the team’s success this year.”

Taylor was Alabama’s most consistent bat when SEC play started last year. In conference play, he hit .295, which was second on the team, 10 home runs and knocked in 15 RBIs, both of which led the team. 

“Hunter Alexander is the first guy that comes to mind [replacing Taylor’s bat in the lineup],” Bohannon said. “He’s been really good in the preseason. Cody Henry hit eight home runs last year. Matt Malkin is a guy that can run the ball out of the ballpark. It’s a strength of our club, that we do have some strength offensively.”

Medders was one of the players fighting for the Sunday rotation spot. He finished with a 4.38 ERA and 33 strikeouts, while pitching 39 innings in his first collegiate year.

The Crusaders finished 24-29 last year, but are bringing back a very experienced roster. They bring back six of their nine everyday starters, along side the JUCO transfers it acquired during the offseason. 

Alabama kicks off its season on Friday at 3 p.m. against Valparaiso. 

“Everybody keeps asking ‘are you nervous,’ and I’m not,” Bohannon said. “I’m sure that clock will be moving pretty slow Friday morning, but I’m just really excited to see what it looks like. I assume I’ll be nervous, but I’m not yet.”

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