After opening weekend, however, his will may be tested: he might have already figured out his best lineup.
Concerns were raised as three true freshmen: shortstop Mikey White, second baseman Kyle Overstreet and center fielder Georgie Salem, were thrown out as not only starters, but top three hitters on Opening Day.
They responded with a combined 12-35 slate at the plate (.343), throwing in six RBI and a .421 on-base percentage.
“The freshmen stood out this weekend,” said third baseman Kenny Roberts, who moved to third base from second base for this year. “They came out and played hard. They did what the coaches and older guys ask them to do, and I feel like as the season goes along, they’ll get even better.”
A hole could have been filled at first base, as well, as sophomore Cary Baxter started at first twice and designated hitter once to lead the team with a .625 batting average and .825 slugging percentage.
“Baxter’s really filling a need for us right now,” Gaspard said. “He had a huge weekend, both RBIs, had a lot of hits, extra-base hits. He’s a guy that we knew he was capable of this, but didn’t get many at-bats last year and now it looks like he’s ready.
“Right now, it’s Baxter. There’s still some on-going competition, and the team is very aware of that. But right now, the last couple days, we’ve had a solid lineup, one through nine.”
Another bright spot popped up in the Tide’s bullpen in the long-awaited return of Tucker Hawley. Hawley missed the entire 2012 season with an arm injury and pitched 2.1 innings of relief, giving up two hits and one run.
“We kind of shoved him right into the fire there with the bases loaded and he was able to induce a double-play ball and pitch another solid inning,” Gaspard said. “I thought, first of all, he showed a lot of the same stuff you saw before. I thought he didn’t pitch timid, I thought he went out there and attacked the zone. The one thing we want to see with him is his velocity come back. Today, he was probably around 87 or 88 and we’d really like to see him get in that 90 range.”
The velocity issue is one he has been working on for months now and says he is close to resolving.
“It’s getting there,” Hawley said. “I’m working out some kinks with mechanics, but when you get out on the field, you have to throw that on the backburner and attack the hitter.”
For now, Gaspard is simply thrilled to have Hawley back on the mound in any role.
“He’s going to be a good piece wherever he ends up, starter or reliever,” Gaspard said. “Right now it’s just about building his innings back up and getting his velocity where it needs to be.”
Hawley added, “I was a little amped up, it’s always good to play in front of a crowd. My first warmup pitch I almost busted my butt. Like I said, I was a little amped. I just wanted to really let one go and calm down from there.”