JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gone is former ASUN Pitcher of the Year Michael Baumann, a 2017 third round draft choice of the Baltimore Orioles. Gone is consistent southpaw Casey Kulina, who won six games and went complete twice down the stretch to help Jacksonville University baseball clinch its first ASUN Regular Season Championship since 2006.
Pitching coach Mark Guerra is still all-in on his staff this year.
"Losing the two starters hurts a bit. We'll see who's going to step up," said Guerra.
Junior Chris Gau is back for a second straight season in the weekend rotation after starting 13 games a year ago. Gau, a 6-foot-3 right-hander from University Christian School in Jacksonville, has an aggressive approach on the mound to go with strikeout stuff. He pitched to a 3.96 ERA in 75 innings, and is the leading returner in K's from last season with 69. Gau saved some of his best work for the ASUN Tournament last year in which he threw 12 innings in two starts and fired 14 K's.
The other weekend spots are up for grabs, and a whole host of experienced arms are vying for the opportunity. Redshirt-senior RHP Nathan Disch, an All-ASUN selection two years ago, is back from injury and has 23 starts in his career. Guerra emphasizes how great it is to have him back in the fold.
Redshirt-junior RHP Greg Shannahan returned from Tommy John halfway through last season, and is now nearly two years removed from surgery. Junior right-hander Mike Cassala started four games late in last year's campaign, and now the trick is to figure out the balance between his catching and pitching role. Senior righty Spencer Stockton, last year's closer, returns to a starting spot two years after primarily starting games. Sophomore RHP Tyler Santana is also being lengthened out this season after all 27 of his freshman year appearances came out of the pen.
"All of our guys are throwing really well. We are just looking for guys who can compete and give us a chance day in and day out," said Guerra.
The bullpen again features a mix of veterans and new faces.
"I'm extremely excited about our arms in the pen and the way they are throwing and competing," said Guerra.
Jacksonville will return familiar names including a trio of seniors, RHP Shane Wise and Andrew Ciocia and LHP Matt Meyer, to go with sophomore righty Logan Wonn. Wise had 24 appearances last season, the most among bullpen returners. Meyer pitched a team-high 40 innings in relief.
Several newcomers join the relief corps this year as well. Freshman right-handers Austin Temple, Trent Palmer, Jordan Ward and Chris Mauloni bring a variety of different looks and velocities to the table.
Coach Guerra has enough confidence in his guys, young and experienced alike, that he says starters are not going to be relied on to go complete as many times this season.
"We're really young, but I think that we will step up and do fine."
Jacksonville University baseball opens the season at home with a three-game series vs. West Virginia Feb. 16-18 at John Sessions Stadium. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time at JUTickets.com.