Q&A With Baseball Coach Ken Knutson -- Part 2
Oct. 20, 2004
In the first installment of a fall interview with Husky baseball coach Ken Knutson (posted last week to gohuskies.com), the UW skipper talked about summer -- his summer vacation and the summer season for Washington ballplayers.
In this edition, Knutson tells gohuskies.com how things went during the Huskies' fall practice season, which wrapped up Oct. 7 with the seventh and final game of the annual intrasquad 'Fall World Series.'
In future installments, which should be posted in the upcoming few weeks, Knutson will preview the upcoming 2005 season as the Huskies look to make yet another step forward after finishing third in the Pac-10 in 2002 and 2003, and second last year.
gohuskies.com: How did fall practice go?
Ken Knutson: The fall was fine. We had so many experienced guys, so we really put a premium on just playing. We had a new coach [newly hired assistant coach Donny Harrel], so we got a chance to get him in the mix and show him how things work here. Really, we tried to work on competing and playing well. For freshmen and younger players, there's always teaching that goes on in the fall. We had a few positions open for competition and that got sorted out. We had some new players that are going to help us out now and in the future. As always, we had some guys that were nicked up from the summer or the previous year. In the fall, you tend not to push those guys and just keep them out. It's not like the spring when you might be playing guys that are able to play even though they're slightly hurt.
gh.com: Tell us how the annual 'Fall World Series' finished up.
KK: We always end our fall in a seven-game intrasquad series. It was tied at three games apiece going down to the last game. That game went 11 innings and Taylor Johnson hit a two-run home run for the Purple Team to beat the Gold Team, 2-0. That was pretty exciting and the kids had a good time with it.
gh.com: The spots that were most open for competition were second base, center field and catcher. Who emerged in those positions during the fall?
KK: For catcher, the guy coming back with the most experience was Matt Lane. He didn't catch a whole lot last year in games, but he played DH and got over 100 at bats. He's really a good offensive player. I think he's one of the keys to our success this year because we feel like we have really good pitching and you have to be really good behind the plate to handle that pitching. Matt really improved, we thought, and he's one of the keys to how far we can go with his defensive ability. D.J. Neyens emerged as the backup. We had two freshmen, Joey Dunn and Stewart Davis, who got to see what college baseball is like for the first time. Joey was hurt a little bit, and he didn't do much the last two weeks, so he didn't get to play in the games. Davis made progress, his catching improved. It looks like he's going to be a good offensive player. He kind of reminds me of Lane at the plate -- a left-handed hitter with some power.
At second base, it was wide open after Greg Isaacson graduated after last year. We have some options there, but Mike Rundle came in and played well. Offensively, he'll tell you he didn't think he swung the bat like he should. But he really caught the ball. I think he was our best defensive player in the infield, or close to it. In about 100 chances, he made maybe two or three errors. He played well that way. He's got some experience. He's a fourth-year player who came to us from Gonzaga, so he's got that. There's competition behind him with Ryan Anderson and Kiel Lillibridge and Josh Showers. Showers had a good fall too. He's been hurt in the past, but he swung the bat well and stayed healthy. That's a big thing for Josh.
In center, Nick Burnham emerged as the starter. He's got the job going into the spring. Mike Burgher came into practice a little late due to some administrative things, so he didn't get the whole fall. But he's a talented kid and a true center fielder. He's going to try and push Burnham, but he's a still just a freshman. And Nick Jiles, who's a sophomore this year, was only in action for about half of the fall. He injured his non-throwing shoulder and couldn't swing the bat, so he didn't really have that good of a chance to compete, especially later when we were scrimmaging.
gh.com: What do you think still has to be figured out in the spring before the games begin?
KK: The are some things to be worked out with the bullpen and the pitching in general. You know, we have a funny schedule this year. We had some problems because late in the summer, we had two teams drop out of series. So, all of a sudden, we lost six games and had some gaps in the schedule. We had to manuever it some, so we have stretches where we have six games in eight days and in the tournament at Texas A&M, we have six games in four days. So we have to develop the depth. I think we have it. We have some guys that have been here for a while. Obviously, our top three starters are back, but also Keaton Everitt, Jordan Ponzoha, David Dowling and Josh Conover have started before too and we have some young guys that'll be in the mix. Conover will probably be in the bullpen. The bullpen looks like it'll be Conover, Dowling and Richie Lentz, plus Matt Hague and Nick Hagadone and some other young guys. Kyle Carson is a highly-recruited freshmen, but he had a little injury that kept him out in the fall, but he'll be fine in the spring. To me, it'll be figuring out the bullpen, making sure that we have pitching depth. Then it's just letting the guys play and developing as we go.
gh.com: What do the team and coaches do between the end of fall practice and the start of spring?
KK: We have a few weeks before the early signing period, so we've been recruiting. That's been going well, but we have maybe another player or two to get, but that's it. Then we go into what we call four-on-ones where we have individual work with small groups of players and coaches. We get our hands on guys a couple of days a week. I'll be with the pitchers. Joe Ross will do the offensive stuff and Donny Harrel will help with the offense and work with players on defense. Really, this time is about getting stronger and more physical and getting ready for the rigors of a long season. [Strength coach and former player] Daniel Jahn down there in the weight room working them out. I'll be doing some stuff with the pitchers as far as shoulder strength and so forth. We'll do that until the middle of December and then with myself and pitchers, they'll start doing a lot of throwing to get ready for spring. In January after the break, we'll do some more four-on-ones for a couple of weeks before we start team practice. Then we start playing the middle of February. It doesn't take long for the season to get here.
gh.com: Tell us about the changes that are going to be made to the field at Husky Ballpark?
KK: We've started to have some problems with our AstroTurf. It's gotten a little ripped up over the six or seven years we've had it. So, we're replacing that with FieldTurf. They're going to have it installed in time for spring. FieldTurf is the newest and best artificial surface out there. I always feel like it plays like the best grass you've ever been on. The ball bounces more like on grass. It'll help me as a pitching guy because the ball won't get through the infield as fast. It's certainly going to look very nice and for the players playing on it, it's softer and easier on their bodies. There are a lot of benefits. It's still all-weather, so we're going to get all these home games in. How many games have been rained out in the last during the last six years. Two or three?
gh.com: That's it for this edition of Q&A with Coach Knutson. In a few weeks, the coach will be back to preview the upcoming 2005 season as the Huskies try to make a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. Check gohuskies.com for updates on that and more.