Without workhorse Sean McDonald, a young group of pitchers will be tested early and often For the pitching staff of the Penn baseball team, one thing should be near the top of the packing list as it prepares to leave Philadelphia today to begin a whirlwind spring break tour of central Florida: plenty of bags of ice. Facing a grueling schedule of 10 games in just nine days, the arms of the Quakers' 11 pitchers are definitely going to need them. "It's tough," Penn coach Bob Seddon said of the annual spring break trip, which last year took the Red and Blue to southern California. "Basically, our plan is to stretch out our starters this year. In the past, we've tried to split the pitchers [into] three a game. We feel that this year we have the arms to be able to [stretch them instead]." Those arms will begin throwing tomorrow afternoon in Melbourne, Fla., in Penn's season opener against the Florida Institute of Technology. Sophomore Mike Mattern is slated to start on the mound for the Quakers. The Red and Blue hope that their ace will begin tomorrow right where he left off at the end of last season, when as a freshman he led the team in wins, strikeouts and earned runs average in a team-high 53 innings pitched. "He's a gamer," Seddon said. "He's got that confidence. He's not on edge on every pitch, and you know he's going to give you a good effort." Mattern has already put forth tons of effort prior to tomorrow's start. Over the off-season, the Philadelphia native worked a changeup into his already dangerous combination of pitches, giving him a total of six solid weapons to use against opposing batters. "He can come with a veritable bevy of pitches," said Penn pitcher Sean McDonald, who will miss the season with partially torn elbow ligaments. "In our pre-season he has just absolutely baffled our hitters. The great thing about him is you never know what's coming." Under Penn pitching coach Bill Wagner's planned rotation, Mattern will go as long as he can before being relieved in tomorrow's season opener. "We're hoping that he'll go five, six, maybe even [a complete] seven innings," Seddon said. Besides Mattern, two other veteran pitchers have already secured one of the four starting positions in the Penn rotation. Junior Matt Hepler will start Saturday in Penn's second game against F.I.T. and is looking to prove that he deserved his nomination last year as Penn's "Most Improved Pitcher." "He's getting better command of all his pitches," Mattern said. "He's going to be able to throw a lot of pitches on different counts whenever he wants. He's going to be tough to hit." Hepler is now the oldest member of the pitching staff after the loss of McDonald, who is now taking up more of a coaching role on the team to help the young pitching staff. Hepler, though, has already stepped up in his responsibility to the younger pitchers. "He's taken more of a leadership role," Mattern said. "He's taken people under his wing, especially some of the freshmen." Mark Lacerenza is the third Penn starter to return, and the sophomore is hoping to rebound from the 0-6 season he endured last year as a freshman. He'll get his first try Sunday in Daytona against Northern Illinois in the first game of an evening doubleheader. Lacerenza, though, has already shown signs of a comeback in pre-season practices and scrimmages. "One of his flaws last year was his control on the breaking ball," McDonald said. "You can tell he's more relaxed now. This year he's really staying within himself, is throwing strikes and is actually throwing a decent breaking ball." With the loss of McDonald, the battle for the one vacant starting spot in the pitching rotation will begin once these three established starters retire to the dugout. Already granted a chance to start in Sunday's nightcap against Northern Iowa is freshman John McCreery, who may also see time in the outfield. "He? has a very good fastball," McDonald said. "[But] everybody can hit a fastball, [so] it's going to be up to how his off-speed stuff does and how he handles his first collegiate start. I think personally I'd have as much confidence in him as I would in myself." Joining McCreery in the hunt for the final starting role are sophomore Dan Fitzgerald and freshmen Paul Grumet, Benjamin Krantz, Benjamin Otero and Kevin Wells. The tiring 10-game spring break trip will allow the Penn coaching staff to evaluate these hurlers in both starting and relief roles to determine where they best belong. "The purpose of this trip is to get ready for the season," Seddon said. "When we come back from Florida, hopefully we'll have a solid staff, four starting pitchers and a plan to work with once the Ivy League starts." With Ivy doubleheaders being extended from seven to nine innings this year, teams will need to have closers waiting to seal victories in the bullpen. Those pitchers who do not gain starting roles could be groomed to close for the Quakers. "That's what we're looking at right now," McDonald said. "We need to fill the role of a go-to guy in a [doubleheader] where you know you need to come in and shut the door."Comments powered by Disqus
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