Redbird Baseball Season Preview: Week 1 - Starting Pitching
Jan. 17, 2008
NORMAL, Ill. - Though many people might be going through "cabin fever" as the winter continues to drag on, those on the Illinois State baseball team are busy preparing for the start of the 2008 season, which is only five weeks away. GoRedbirds.com and Redbird All-Access will check in with the Redbirds as they get ready for opening day 2008, with the weekly series "Redbird Baseball Season Preview." The first edition of the series will take a look at the Redbird starting pitching corps, which returns two starters from last year's squad, including Eric Theisen, the senior leader who is featured as this week's video interview, available for Redbird All-Access members.
Theisen, a native of Adrian, Mich., will look to regain his form after battling injuries for the past two seasons. The right hander will provide leadership for the young squad and will finish his Redbird career in 2008. Theisen received a medical redshirt in 2006, and missed the entire campaign after suffering an arm injury during winter workouts. Though he finished with a 3-9 record and a 4.54 earned-run average (ERA) in 2007, the Redbird coaching staff is optimistic that he can produce similar to what he did in 2005, when he led the team with a 6-0 record, and racked up a 57 strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA.
Head coach Jim Brownlee believes that Theisen will provide a lot of leadership, on-and-off the field, and that he will be rewarded for all his hard work during his rehabilitation.
"I'm excited for Eric because he's worked as hard as any guy I've ever had," said Brownlee. "He has had a torn labrum and Tommy John surgery, and I think that he is bound and determined, which says a lot about him. You see guys kind of go through the motions during rehab, but he has gone above and beyond. If there's a baseball god, Eric Theisen is going to be rewarded this spring.
"He threw a lot of innings last year and gave a monumental effort with a bad elbow, and I think he will be rewarded this year. I don't think I've ever had a guy work harder in rehab to get back. We see where he's going to be at, and he's going to be ready to go for the first weekend. We will have to go through the first four weekends to see where his recovery time is, and if it's good, he would be our Friday guy or a weekend starter. Even if his velocity does not come back, he will be good to go because he has so much movement on his pitches."
Another Redbird that returns for his final campaign is senior Tyler Cox, who finished 3-1 with a 3.22 ERA in 20 appearances (four starts) last year after transferring from Parkland College. Cox is also in the mix to be one of the weekend starters, after proving to be a reliable left-handed arm out of the bullpen. In 50.1 innings of work, Cox gave up 18 earned runs while striking out 30 and walking 26. The Danville, Ill., native will also be looked to provide leadership to the younger pitchers, as he helped lead his junior college team to a second-place finish in the 2005 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Baseball Championship.
"I think Tyler is more comfortable heading into his second year," said Brownlee. "Coming from a junior college, it's a big adjustment to come into the Missouri Valley Conference. I don't think anyone is really ready for that, but Tyler is an extremely hard worker. He's got a good arm, and will have a chance to pitch at the next level if he continues to progress. When he first got to ISU, he had some problems with the running game, and now he's got that under control. He's working hard, and is another guy that has a chance to start on the weekends."
Sophomore Ryan Copeland is another left-hander who will see significant time on the mound, as the Des Plaines, Ill., native is the other returning starter for the Redbirds in 2008. Copeland threw 69.1 innings last season, and finished 4-3 (one complete game) with 32 strikeouts and a 5.19 ERA. Copeland has excellent command of his pitches, as he walked only 10 batters in 13 appearances (11 starts). With an outstanding changeup, Copeland is expected to shoulder a bulk of the load on the bump this season.
"Ryan is a guy that throws all three pitches for strikes, and is always going to give you a chance to win," said Brownlee. "He's not going to beat himself, because he's a cerebral pitcher who has command and has always been a winner. He had a very good freshman year, but with overuse, his arm was a little tender and we had to rest him. After taking the summer off, he's good to go and I'm excited because we are pretty healthy on the mound for the first time in a while."
Junior Jim Sajewich will return to the starting rotation in 2008, after he served as the main arm out of the bullpen last season. The Wheaton, Ill., native led the team with a 2.89 ERA, and finished with a 3-2 record and two saves. In 27 appearances, Sajewich allowed only 17 earned runs while he fanned 32 batters. Though he was a relief pitcher last season, the right-hander has plenty of collegiate experience as a starter, getting the ball 13 times as a freshman in 2006.
"Jim Sajewich pitched a ton as a freshman and sophomore, said Brownlee. "He's coming off a great summer in the Northwoods League, and I think that with his increased mental maturity, he will be able to pitch into the sixth and seventh innings. I look for him to be a weekend guy, but our problem with him is that he has been so durable as a setup man in the bullpen. He has been very effective, and I really like him in that role. If Tyler and Eric are healthy, that will free Jim up to be in that role, but he may start anyways."
Many of the younger pitchers will have opportunities to start midweek games throughout the season, including junior Dan Sorce and sophomore Jacob Wielebnicki, who saw limited time on the mound as a freshman in 2007. Junior transfer Quinn Ewert and true freshmen Corey Maines and Kyle Nelson are all candidates to get the ball during the non-conference slate. If the trio does not see the mound in starting situations, they will all be viable options out of the bullpen. Maines appears to be the early favorite to earn the closer role, as Brownlee believes his pitching will improve with experience.
"This is the most depth we've had in a while, as we have struggled with depth the past two years, especially with our midweek pitchers," said Brownlee. "I think there are some guys that as they get experience, will get opportunities to pitch. Right now, if we played, I would see Corey Maines as our closer. He's got electric stuff; he just needs experience. He's a guy that could be very good, and I think he is someone who wants the ball at the end of a game. Quinn Ewert, Jake Wielebnicki and Kyle Nelson are all interesting guys. As we play a lot of these games, we will put the pieces of the puzzle together and all three will be very important."
Check back with GoRedbirds.com and Redbird All-Access, as the Redbird infield will be examined next week. The Redbird baseball team opens up with a three-game set at Tennessee Tech Feb. 22-24.