Taking a page out of the book of several current Major League ball clubs, the UCSB baseball coaching staff has decided to mix up its pitching rotation by throwing two consistent relievers into the starting role.
At this weekend’s three-game conference series at Riverside, the Gauchos will send leading reliever Ivan Ramirez (2-0) to the hill on Saturday and powerful closer Steve Morlock (3-3) on Sunday.
“[Pitching] Coach [Dan] Ricabal thought this would be a better setup,” Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “He felt strongly that it would give us a better chance to win.”
UCSB’s (18-15, 1-2 in the Big West) usual Friday starter, lefty Sean Thompson (5-3), will be the only hurler to stay locked and will take the ball in the opening game today. Thompson has won four consecutive starts and has lowered his ERA to 4.70. The first victory of his current streak came against UCR on March 14 in a 6-3 nonconference win.
“Thompson has been solid on Fridays,” Ricabal said. “Morlock has been throwing extremely well, and Ramirez is deserving of an opportunity to start.”
Junior right-hander Matt Vasquez (2-3), who started the season as UCSB’s Friday starter and was eventually shifted to the Sunday spot, will now take over the closing role.
Led by 30-year Head Coach Jack Smitheran, Riverside (24-9, 1-2) made a brief appearance in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll on March 31 as the #35 team in the nation. The Highlanders’ .335 team batting average and duo of powerful starting pitchers have catapulted them to a successful season.
“I think they’re one of the better teams out there,” Brontsema said. “They’re very offensive, they have senior leadership and they can run a little bit. They’re also playing with a lot of confidence.”
Highlander junior southpaw Jaymes Torres (5-1) will square off against Thompson today in the opener at the Riverside Sports Complex. Torres has posted a 3.45 ERA in nine starts.
On Saturday, Ramirez will make his first start of the season against sophomore right-hander A.J. Shappi (6-1). Ramirez’s 2.36 ERA is the lowest on the Gaucho staff, while Shappi’s 3.26 ERA is third lowest at UCR. In the Highlanders’ 10-3 defeat of UCSB on March 16, Ramirez threw one third of an inning and gave up three runs on two hits.
Sunday’s matchup will feature Morlock, who boasts a 3.33 ERA, and senior right-hander Julio Fernandez (2-1). It will be Morlock’s second start of the season.
“With our conference season being only 21 games we can’t afford to lose many series,” Brontsema said. “It’s very important we come out and get back on the winning track.”