Baseball ’Bows reload
The team is stocked with returnees for the start of practice
Coach Mike Trapasso starts practice tomorrow with more than half of the players from his 2006 Hawaii Rainbows baseball team returning. That's good for UH, since it put together its best season in 14 years last spring.
Season tickets available tomorrow
Hawaii Rainbows baseball season tickets go on sale tomorrow. They are available via phone at 944-2697, at the Stan Sheriff Center ticket windows (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.) and online at HawaiiAthletics.com.
Prices are $95 (Manoa Maniacs, Blue Level JJ), $100 (Students, Red Level), $120 (Senior Citizens, Red Level), $145 (Adult, Red Level) and $185 (Blue/Orange Levels, plus $80 Premium Seat Contribution).
The returnees include third baseman Justin Frash, who led the Rainbows with a .359 average, and nine-game winner Ian Harrington.
But Trapasso has some big holes to fill before the Jan. 26 season opener against Santa Clara if UH is to match the accomplishments of the 2006 squad. The Rainbows went 45-17, falling in regional play to eventual College World Series champion Oregon State.
"We're going in with more questions than answers," Trapasso said. "The guys we did lose were pretty key guys."
Ace starter Steven Wright (11-2, 2.30 ERA), ace reliever Darrell Fisherbaugh (nine saves, 3.13), leadoff batter and left fielder Robbie Wilder (.332, 62 runs in 59 games), cleanup batter and first baseman Luis Avila (.326, 58 RBIs in 49 games), and No. 5 batter and right fielder Matt Inouye (.347, 40 RBIs in 55 games) are all done with college baseball.
Also, Derek DuPree -- center fielder and No. 2 in the lineup -- is coming off of a torn ACL suffered early in the summer after he batted .313 last year. DuPree is OK to practice, but much of his game is based on quickness and speed.
Pitcher Matt Daly is a big key to Trapasso's plans. The hard-throwing right-hander appeared in 22 games last year, starting two. He went 6-2 with a 3.25 ERA, striking out 52 and walking 26 in 52 2/3 innings.
"It's really about if Daly is a guy we want to put in the rotation or the 'pen. That's really what we'll spend most of the early practices on," Trapasso said. "I'm always one that prefers to have depth in the bullpen. Even in the fall I felt that would be the best way to go."
Here's a quick look at the Rainbows heading into tomorrow's first of 15 preseason practices:
The Rainbows could go with a three-lefty rotation -- a situation they've had success with in the past because it works at Les Murakami Stadium. Harrington (9-3, 3.99) will likely move up to No. 1 after being the Saturday pitcher last year. Fellow senior Mark Rodrigues (4-2, 4.66) and newcomer Nicholas Rhodes, a junior-college transfer, are the other tentative starters.
Daly could move into the rotation if two things happen, Trapasso said.
"A lot of it's going to be determined by if somebody can step up in the bullpen and give us the depth we need. If somebody steps up, that can really change things. That might allow us to put a Matt Daly in the rotation," Trapasso said. "Right now, I think he is more suited to be a guy coming out of the bullpen. Sometimes he can be a high pitch guy. Around 20 pitches per inning at times. When you do that as a starter you're really not helping us."
Right-hander Tyler Davis (2-2, three saves, 4.28) might be the closer. He got hot in WAC play, with a 0.98 ERA in 27 2/3 innings with 23 strikeouts, earning all-conference honors. Trapasso likes the idea of Daly and Davis anchoring the back end of the bullpen. Nine other pitchers on the roster will vie for middle and long-relief duties.
Sophomore Landon Hernandez (.250 in 40 at-bats) didn't play that much last year as Esteban Lopez owned the position, but Trapasso said Hernandez knows his job and has the respect of his teammates.
"He's our catcher. He's really matured, and he understands his role is to handle the staff, receive, block, and be a psychologist," the coach said. "Of course, if he hits like Jason Varitek, we'll move him up in the lineup."
Freshman Kevin Fujii and JC transfer Bryan Ruff are the backups.
Three of the spots are locked in with returning starters: Wallace Award nominee Frash (.471 on-base) at third, Eli Christensen (.301) at shortstop and Jonathan Hee (.283 at second). Hee is the kind of guy who does plenty of things to win games that don't show up on scoresheets, Trapasso said.
"At the end of the day you can look at Jon Hee being the heart and soul of our team," he said.
Trapasso also said the defensive combination of Christensen and Hee should be among the best in the country.
Kris Sanchez (.262 in 84 at-bats) gets the first look at first base, but several players, including Frash, JC transfer Evan Zimny and freshman Kevin Macdonald, will also have opportunities there.
Nathan Young (.211 in 38 at-bats) proved his value as a backup middle-infielder when Christensen got hurt in the regionals.
Freshman Vinnie Catricala can play third if Frash moves to first, and Macdonald can play anywhere.
Plenty depends on DuPree's recovery. But despite the loss of Inouye and Wilder, the outfield depth is good, Trapasso said.
JC transfer Brandon Haislet might be the best prospect on the team, and could step in at center.
"He has the best tools on the club to be a high draft pick," Trapasso said.
Jorge Franco (.216 in 97 at-bats, .352 on-base, 7-7 steals) is a strong candidate to bat leadoff while playing center or right. If those two are in, along with DuPree, "I'd like to see a faster outfield in the country," Trapasso said.
Big things are expected from Zimny, who will play left or right when not at first or DH.
"He's a lefty, which we need, a competitor," Trapasso said. "He was a JC All-American, and it looks like he won't need time to adjust."