Augie Garrido: We have two of our star players from last year that will be out for the season. This is always a big blow for any team, but less of a blow for college players than for professional players because professional players are so experienced at what they’re doing — you can predict pretty well their performances for the year. It’s not like that with the college player. The college player will have a very poor year and a great year, or a great year and a very poor year. The lack of experience with either being highly successful or failing miserably affects the next opportunity they have. With that said, we are extremely disappointed in the fact that we’ve lost a high number of quality innings from Sam Stafford and we’ve lost a leadoff hitter and center fielder that is one of the best in the conference. So one year a long time ago at Fullerton, we had seven outfielders and I told the seventh outfielder after the first semester that he should transfer because he was a good ballplayer but we had six guys ahead of him and he wasn’t going to play. Injuries, as always, came into the picture and he ended being the starting right fielder as conference started. At the end of the conference, he was the MVP of the conference — not of the team — of the conference. So I’ve given up on being able to predict the performances of college baseball players.
DT: Nathan Thornhill mostly came out of the bull pen last season. What did you see from him that made you decide to make him the Friday starter?
Garrido: How he came out of the bull pen last year. He has a leadership personality. He has the courage and confidence to take the risk to throw a fastball over the plate on the first pitch after the opposing team’s hit a home run. And he’s done all of that over and over again. So that’s what we’re looking for from all of our pitchers. They really can’t strike everybody out. They really can’t control the hitter. But they can make quality pitches no matter what happens to them on the pitch before the next one. And he does that.
DT: What do you expect from Hoby Milner this year?
Garrido: [Thornhill and Milner] very much alike. One’s right-handed and one’s left-handed. They pretty much have the same velocity on their fastball, the same style of pitching using the fastball on both sides of the plate, a bit of a breaking ball and use of a changeup.
DT: Are Hoby and Thornhill going to be 1A and 1B this year?
Garrido: You don’t know for the whole year. We play the whole season week by week. We take one week at a time for every player. For the position players, it’s usually four games. For the pitchers it’s usually one game. In this game, it’s a game of falls and recoveries. So we’re not concerned with one fall unless it’s connected to attitude where they quit. Then we’re putting them back on the mound. With the lineup we’re not going to have somebody have a bad game and then jerk them out of the lineup. We take the season week by week, evaluate the performances at the end of the week and start over a brand new season. That’s the way we keep our stats, too. We start over every week. It’s too long of a season to try to predict or set numerical goals like winning 20 games or whatever it is. Go play. Have fun with it.
DT: After losing upperclassmen like Sam Stafford and Cohl Walla, do you see some of the sophomores that had big seasons as freshmen stepping up into leadership roles this season?
Garrido: We had five freshmen players that were key players on last year’s team. All of them have very fine leadership qualities. So they are stepping into that role and doing a good job with that.
DT: What’s it like having Jordan Etier back on the team after he was kicked off the team for his arrest for marijuana possession and evading arrest?
Garrido: Baseball-wise, he’s always been fine. On the field, he’s always hustled. He’s always tried his hardest. He’s always done his best. He’s always been an inspiration to his teammates. It’s been some of his choices off the field that led that. I think that he has been given an opportunity and he recognizes that it’s a life-changing opportunity. He was facing not being able to graduate from the University of Texas and not being able to play on the baseball team — both very important things. Now, he’s been given that opportunity back. Now he has a different view and not taking very many things for granted. He’s making better choices off the field. He’s in a structured environment in his home life now. He’s more detailed and is making better choices in what he does and how he does it and when he does it. I think he’s very excited about the opportunity to control his own life.
DT: What do you think your chances are to get back to Omaha and play in the College World Series again this season?
Garrido: It’s way too early to tell. The opportunity to go there is reasonable and realistic for us to know that we can. It’s just how consistently we can play a game of baseball. How consistently can we play an inning of baseball? How well can we play catch?
DT: Does Duke have half as good of a baseball team as it does a basketball team?
Garrido: No, they have more guys. If they come out here and play basketball, we’re going to beat them. They’ll only have five guys on the field.