Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, March 19, 1999

R A I N B O W _ B A S E B A L L



There’ll be
no rest for
weary pitchers

The Rainbows alone will
have 13 games in the next 17 days

By Al Chase


Rainbow Stadium is the place to gather for those interested in a steady diet of college baseball games the next two weeks.

The Hawaii Rainbows have 13 games scheduled over the next 17 days starting with the opener of a Western Athletic Conference series against Fresno State tonight and concluding with the finale of the WAC series against Nevada-Las Vegas April 3.

In between, there are 21 Rainbow Easter Tournament games involving six teams Monday through next Sunday.

That means a number of pitchers will throw a tremendous number of baseballs toward home plate in the next two weeks. Based on the average number of pitches in UH games so far this season, approximately 5,200 will be delivered in the tournament alone.

With the heavy game load, managing a pitching staff judiciously is all-important for individual and team success. Recognizing when a pitcher has reached his limit is a constant concern for coaches, which is why many hurlers have a pitch limit.

Recent headlines about the season-ending injuries to major-league pitchers Kerry Wood and Kerry Ligtenberg illustrate how fragile a pitcher's arm can be if not used wisely.

For UH head coach Les Murakami and FSU head coach Bob Bennett, the WAC series commands top priority as both teams need victories.

"No question this weekend is crucial," Murakami said. "We're not going to overwork our pitchers. They will have enough rest. Although you want to win a tournament, the tournament for me at this stage is not a win at all cost. It's the WAC games that are more important."

In fact, when the Easter Tournament schedule was being drawn up, Murakami decided the Rainbows and Bulldogs would play on the first day.

"Neither of us will have any pitching left and I felt that was the most fair," Murakami said.

Bennett agreed with the decision.

The Bulldogs staff received a boost when junior right-hander Casey Rowe returned last week after being sidelined two weeks with an injury. And, in Fresno State's tournament last week, freshmen Nick Moran, who had been struggling, and Zach Minor pitched effectively.

"It does kind of put a kibosh on things when you have to use that many pitchers in that many days, but the good side is it gives a lot of kids a chance to pitch and sometimes you find a pitcher or two," Bennett said.

Murakami, who will have an expanded roster available during the tournament, has had shortstop Corey Miller and third baseman Matt Wheeler working in the bullpen in case they're needed.

Miller pitched at Westmont College and Wheeler was used as a closer in summer ball.

"You might see Sean Yamashita or Patrick McNair start. You might see Chad Giannetti and Aaron Pribble in long relief. It depends on how many pitchers we have to use in the three WAC games," Murakami said.

The UH injury report has left-hander Troy Yoshimasu back after pulling his left hamstring two weeks ago. Left-hander Randon Ho, who strained muscle on his left side against San Jose State, is day-to-day.

It's a different story for Hawaii Pacific head coach Allan Sato and Hawaii-Hilo's Joey Estrella.

The Sea Warriors are enjoying their best season since Sato took over, posting a 26-5 mark against NCAA Division II schools. HPU is No. 28 in the latest Collegiate Baseball rankings and will receive strong consideration for a berth in the West Regional.

"It's kind of exciting to manage the staff and decided who can come back," Sato said. "I've taken the approach that this is a playoff for us. We've got some tired people and some people are drained mentally, but the deeper you get into the tourney, everyone is in the same boat with pitching."

The Sea Warriors have won their last 15 games despite playing all in just 11 days. And, in an unfortunate accident, starter Kelton Otsuka (4-1, 3.44) was lost for the season when he was hit on the left eye by a line drive last Tuesday.

Estrella also had to redo his starting rotation after the Vulcans No. 1 pitcher, left-hander Thomas Ford, hurt his arm earlier this year. It's not career threatening, but needs plenty of rest.

Also, UHH hasn't played a game in three weeks.

"A big question mark for us is how rusty we're going to be," Estrella said.

The Northwestern Wildcats also may need a game or two to recharge after not playing the past two weeks due to exams.

NU head coach Paul Stevens tried to arrange more nontournament games, but UHH doesn't arrive until Monday and he had to settle for a matchup with HPU tomorrow at 7 at Hans L'Orange Park.

Nittaidai is bringing just six pitchers, all right-handers. However, in past Rainbow Easter Tournaments, it was not unusual for a pitcher on a Japanese team to make three starts.

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