2010 Anteater Baseball Preview: Pitchers

UC Irvine has the great privilege to welcome back ace Daniel Bibona for his senior season. Bibona was honored as a Louisville Slugger Preseason first-team All-American after he led the ’Eaters with a 12-1 record, 2.63 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 106 innings pitched last season when he was also named Big West Pitcher of the Year.

“This is a guy who has had great determination and great work ethic,” Head Coach Mike Gillespie said. “I think [pitching coach] Ted Silva deserves a lot of credit for his success. He can throw three pitches for strikes on any count.”

Gillespie compares Bibona to Randy Flores, one of his former left-handed pitchers at USC, who is currently a reliever for the Colorado Rockies.

“Randy Flores was Danny Bibona [in college]. That’s a complement to Bibona,” Gillespie said. “Bibona has heard so much of Flores, but Flores has never met Bibona. They are two of a kind.”

Bibona was drafted in the 16th round by the St. Louis Cardinals after last season, but turned down more than $100,000 in signing bonus to return to UCI.

The ’Eaters also return one of the best pitching staffs in the country including senior Preseason All-Americans   Christian Bergman and Eric Pettis, senior Kyle Necke, junior Crosby Slaught, as well as sophomores Nick Hoover and Matt Summers.

Pettis, who has racked up 34 saves in the last two seasons as the Anteater closer, looks to close on Friday and start on Sundays this season. Pettis was an All-Big West first-team honoree, and also picked up a slew of All-American awards. The 6’2” right-hander thrives off of a funky delivery.

Bergman, who specializes in walking very few batters, sported a sparkling 1.94 ERA last season, landing himself on the All-Big West second team. Slaught, not to be outdone by his fellow rotation mates, went 8-0 with a 4.62 ERA as the third starter last season. To have all four guys returning for the ’Eaters is a marvelous treat, to say the least.

In the bullpen, Necke will step in to close on days that Pettis cannot go. The senior was hurt for the first part of last season in an off-the-field altercation, but really came on late last year.

“[Necke] made abrupt success with his cutter,” Gillespie said. “Going into this year healthy, he’s very important.”

Another guy with an increased role in the bullpen is Summers, who also strives to be an outfielder.

“Matt Summers has become very important to us, he’s a two position guy,” Gillespie said. “He’s a throw back as a baseball player, he wants to be in there to pitch and swing the bat, play the outfield, dive… when Necke can’t close a game, Summers will have to step in.”

Unable to make it out of the “Regional of Death” in last year’s Regional held at Anteater Ballpark, the upperclassmen are determined to make it to Omaha, and continue to make pitching the ’Eaters greatest strength.

“I think there is a lot to be proud of over the last two years,” Gillespie said. “We won 45 games which is very impressive [for our program].”

Coach Gillespie also hopes to utilize his freshman pitching talent during the season, which includes righties Evan Brock and Kyle Hooper, and lefties Ruben Orozco and Matt Whitehouse. With junior Crosby Slaught still rehabbing from an injured elbow over the offseason, Coach Gillespie will look to his younger pitchers to step up early.

Coach Gillespie looks to change up the rotation a bit, a tough challenge for any manager dealing with injuries, to begin the season.  Bibona and Bergman are a lock at one and two in the rotation, with Gillespie hinting at probably starting Pettis on the third day. The fourth spot in the rotation will likely begin with Hooper. Slaught, who is currently on a 21-day rehabilitation program, will also be a key part of the rotation for the ’Eaters.

The ’Eaters pitching squad boasted a 45-15 record last year, with a 4.43 team ERA compared to a 6.49 opposing ERA.

“We really need five guys to start this season,” Gillespie said. “We will see what happens when everyone gets healthy.”

Coach Gillespie’s pitchers will be sure to dazzle opposing hitters this season in what should be a tremendous year to watch the Anteater Aces.