UK baseball head coach Gary Henderson (photo by Chet White, UK athletics)
UK baseball head coach Gary Henderson joined Neil Price on Big Blue Weekly from The Cellar on Lanesdowne Drive on Wednesday night. Below is a transcript of Henderson and Price's conversation during the 30-minute show.
On how early you start forming a lineup, rotation, etc. ... "The first thing you ever do is make sure that everybody is healthy and you start getting them prepared. The first 10 days to two weeks you kind of break down the body a little bit out of pure repetition, weight room, yoga, cardio, practice, and all those things. Then you start to build it back up. Nobody gets crossed off the list; you are just getting them ready. As a coach you always have ideas of what it might look like. And one of the things that I have found as I have gotten more experience, gotten older and done it more often is that everything is written in pencil. You just don't know. You think you know, but you don't know. Not in every area, but in certain areas. Going back for several years now, coach (John) Cohen and I used to have some discussions and disagreements in terms of what that bullpen would look like or the starting rotation. Sometimes John was right, sometimes I was right. What I learned through that whole process is you just wait. You get everybody prepared and you hope that those kids absolutely force you to play them. That is what you are hoping for."
On how a pitching background as a head coach differs from a hitting background ... "There are different things to look at. But certainly there is a different focus in practice. Where your times is spent and how much importance you spend on getting those 27 outs. Also in fairness to everybody, the game is different than it was eight or 10 years ago. Those bats are different. All you have to do is look at the power numbers, the average numbers, what those guys in the bottom half of the order are able to do, the slugging percentage and the on base percentage. Those things have changed over time. Guys have made adjustments to their offenses. You are seeing a lot more attempted steals then you did a few years ago. It is a more part of the game (now) and you are seeing a lot more short game."
On preseason All-America two-way standout A.J. Reed and his offseason progress ... "Well, the skill set is pretty good. A.J. is making the normal progress that you would hope guys make, probably a little bit more than normal. He has done a really, really good job of changing his body the last four months. He looks great. Fans are going to recognize him but they are also going to recognize that he is a little bit trimmer. He has dropped about 20 pounds. His bat speed is little bit better. He is moving better, left to right, at first base. He is repeating his delivery at a high level. It is pretty exciting."
On how changing his body physically can help 6-foot-4, 240-pound LHP/1B A.J. Reed ... "You are just carrying less weight. If you are hoping to do something 85 to 110 times and you are doing it with 20 less pounds on your body it is going to be easier to do and easier to repeat and easier to explode at release. The bat speed is going to be able to stay in place longer. The body is easier to control. The brain feels better because you are not fatigued. It is all of it. It is all related. It is important. He has done a really good job. I am proud of him."
On how A.J.'s work ethic in the offseason pleases a coach ... "Well, it does. The other thing it does is the influence it has on his peers. It sends a message that what he is doing is important. I am really proud of him. It is like anybody, you lose 15-20 pounds, that is work, that is effort. He has done it and he is going to benefit from it."
On Austin Cousino working hard in the offseason and playing with a chip on his shoulder in 2014 ... "The swing is good. He has worked hard. You are going to see a stronger body. A little bit more athletic look. The swing has always been nice. It has been a pretty swing, really. What you are going to see is a much more disciplined approach and a freer mind. We are really excited about what Austin has done."
On sophomore southpaw Sam Mahar bouncing back from missing 2013 due to injury ... "Sam has done great. The work ethic is outstanding. His feel for pitching, his ability to create and repeat are at a much different level then they were the first two years. It is really not even close at this point. We just have to get him back in the game and get him comfortable again. He had a really, really solid freshman year for us. He is a good competitor, his feel, his confidence, all of that stuff is at a higher level than it has ever been.
On having some returning guys fans know and some new faces to learn ... "As you mentioned that bullpen is going to be different. Fans are going to see some returning guys, six or seven guys that they have seen in the everyday lineup before and they have a feel for who they are. Then you are going to know who those starting pitchers are as well. And again, they have to stay healthy and they have to perform. But we have some guys that we run out there that all of our guys are going to know. Having said that, we are going to have a new second baseman. We are going to have a new guy in the outfield. And that bullpen is going to be new. Those guys that we knew and loved for two and three years are gone. Trevor (Gott) is gone. Walt (Wijas) is gone. Alex Phillips was here for a couple years and did a good job. You are going to see some new names. You are going to see Zach Strecker, you are going to see Sam Mahar back and doing it for us. There are going to be some new people back there. They are going to be a little up and down as there always is when you are putting a bullpen together. We have a good group. We have some strike throwers down there and I am excited to put it together."
On LHP transfer Matt Snyder joining the roster last week after Temple announced cutting the program ... "They did. And we are glad to have Matt. He is going to help us. He is also a kid that is in his third school in three semesters by no fault of his own. Anytime you make change in your life, especially at a young age, there is a period of transition. He has to get acclimated. He has to get to know his teammates. He has to find his way around campus. He has a new living situation. So he is making all those transitions. He is doing well. He threw again today. He did extremely well. At some point in time he is going to be able to help us."
On the season opener vs. No. 14 Virginia in Wilmington, N.C., before traveling to Norfolk, Va. ... "We are. Those are beautiful places in June, July and August and I am hoping they are beautiful in February. We are facing good people, good teams and we are looking forward to it."
On the importance of the opening to the season ... "What I think is that you want all the opportunities to play that you can because you have to get that thing figured out. You have four weekends (before SEC play) and who knows what the weather is going to do. And that is the same everywhere. But what you want to do is do the best job and putting those kids in positions they need to be in so when you take that that trip on March 13 to Tuscaloosa that you have the best foundation in place to be successful that you can. Sometimes it is easier said than done. I look around the league every year and you will see someone in the first couple of weekends have a completely different role on a pitching staff or a team, or positionally or in the batting order. But you do the best job you can in the first 18 or 20 games but then the conference games start and you hope you have the foundation. That is really the value of having the older club. Those first four weekends it is all about who can pitch in the sixth, who can pitch in the ninth and who needs to pitch the first five innings."
On how important leadership and team dynamic is the success of the team ... "You start talking about what the art of really what a baseball club is. All you have to do is look at MLB last year and what the preseason rankings were. And the Red Sox are picked 15th and all of a sudden they have a guy like David Ross and (Jonny) Gomes that are a part of their mix and all of a sudden it is a different clubhouse. It is different feel then it was the previous year. Long story short, they win the World Series. You look at your kids and you hope that they can create the same synergy and the same sense of belonging within themselves that you have to have to have good teams. That comes from, the bulk of it, comes from your older kids."
Former Kentucky baseball star Alex Meyer is currently a standout in the Minnesota Twins minor league system, ranking as the 32nd best prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, but it is his offseason job that is garnering some unique national attention.
A 6-foot-9, 230-pound right-handed pitcher, Meyer is spending his offseason in hometown Greensburg, Ind., working as a substitute teacher.
As a former first-round draft pick after an All-Southeastern Conference season in 2011, Meyer - who makes $63 a day as a substitute teacher - signed as a junior for a reported seven-figure bonus.
HOOVER, Ala. -- The opportunities, as they have been for much of the season's second half, were there for Kentucky.
After a 4-1 loss to Ole Miss in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Tuesday, those opportunities are what the Wildcats were thinking about.
"The biggest issue the last seven weeks has just been getting the hit at a key moment," UK head coach Gary Henderson said.
The seventh inning was particularly frustrating. After chasing Ole Miss starter Mike Mayers, UK loaded the bases with one out on an infield single by Zack Storm. Micheal Thomas followed with a pop-up to second and Kyle Barrett grounded out to end the threat, accounting for three of the eight runners the Cats left on base as they were eliminated in the conference tournament.
The story has been all-too-familiar since UK (30-25) sprinted to a 22-6 start. Since then, the bats have fallen silent at all the wrong times and the Cats are 8-19 during that stretch. Most of the fans in attendance at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium were watching Kentucky for the first time, but they got a pretty clear picture of what the last two months have been like.
"You kind of saw a large part of the second half of the season for us today," Henderson said. "That's kind of what it is and has been unfortunately. They fought well. At times, we pitched extremely well. ... But we just didn't have enough offense. We couldn't sustain anything offensively over a period of time to really get out of where we were."
Because of that, UK will be reduced to hoping when they watch the selection show next Monday. UK is ranked No. 38 in the RPI and boasts 12 wins over fellow top-40 teams, but its 11 SEC wins and uneven finish leave the Cats in perilous NCAA Tournament position.
Jerad Grundy will start for Kentucky in the first of the SEC Tournament against Ole Miss on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Gary Henderson doesn't think anything even needs to be said.
His team already knows it has a lot of work ahead to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. Henderson agrees with the experts that the Wildcats (30-24, 11-19 Southeastern Conference) need a "significant run" in this week's conference tournament to make their case.
That doesn't mean he will dramatically alter his approach or the message he delivers to his team.
"We'll go about it the same way we always do," Henderson said.
What that means is the only thing Henderson wants the Cats thinking about is their SEC Tournament opener on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET against sixth-seeded Ole Miss (36-20, 15-15 SEC). The first round - which features teams seeded fifth through 12th - is single-elimination, so UK needs a victory in the "breakfast game" (borrow a phrase from Rebel head coach Mike Bianco) just to keep playing.
"We need to win tomorrow morning and then we can worry about what we're doing on Wednesday," Henderson said. "And as opposed to sitting down and telling them that we gotta bite off four wins or five wins or whatever it is, I won't do that."
Coming off two losses in three games over the weekend at Missouri, UK will call on Jerad Grundy (6-5, 4.75 ERA) to start Tuesday. The senior lefthander is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA in two starts since moving to a midweek role.
"Grundy is a great kid and a very good competitor, but he ran into a rough four-game stretch there in the middle so we took him off of the Saturday games and put him on the Tuesday games," Henderson said. "And he was able to relax and get back to his old self that he'd been for a year and half."
Grundy has made a start against Ole Miss each of the last two seasons, struggling to an 0-2 record with a 13.06 ERA. To improve, Henderson is looking only for Grundy to do the simple things.
"What we've seen is the ability to throw strikes at the knees and command his two secondary pitches, work ahead in the count - the absolute basics that allow you to be successful," Henderson said. "He's pitched much, much better the last two or three times out than he had the previous four."
Ole Miss has not yet named a starting pitcher, but UK is likely to be familiar with whomever Bianco tabs to take the mound. The Cats have faced the Rebels seven times over the last two seasons, taking two games in two three-game sets and winning their SEC Tournament opener over Ole Miss last season, 2-0.
"I would think that there's plenty of familiarity between the Rebels and the Wildcats as many times as we've played in the last two years," Henderson said.
Familiarity or no familiarity, the task remains the same from this game on for the Wildcats as they play with the season on the line.
"We need to play well, we need to pitch well," Henderson said. "All the coaching cliches that are absolutely true, we need to do those tomorrow morning and when that's over we'll worry about (Wednesday)."
Micheal Thomas hit his third home run of the season in UK's 5-3 win over No. 15 Indiana on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The way things have gone lately for the Kentucky baseball team, it was natural to wonder whether the Wildcats would let a little doubt creep in during the seventh inning.
After leading throughout in its home finale, UK surrendered two runs in the top of the inning as No. 15 Indiana took a 3-2 lead. But before the Cats could even ask themselves the question of whether they would respond, Micheal Thomas led off the home half by putting a charge into an 0-1 pitch.
"Micheal came up and ran that ball out of the yard and got everybody excited," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "Now you're tied, you've got the right part of the lineup coming up."
Thomas drove Luke Harrison's pitch over the wall in left field, changing the dynamic all over again. Matt Reida singled next and Zach Storm bunted him to second. Leadoff man Kyle Barrett followed with a walk before Zac Zellers flew out, setting up A.J. Reed - who had already homered on the evening - for a two-out at-bat with a pair of runners on.
Reed delivered a single and the go-ahead run. An inning later, Reida added an insurance run with a single that scored Austin Cousino, giving the Cats a 5-3 lead that would be more than enough for their star closer. Trevor Gott struck out two of the three batters he faced en route to his 12th save and UK (29-22) picked up an important win with just three regular-season games remaining.
"This was definitely a huge game for us for our regional purposes," Reed said. "Them being 15th in the country, that win on paper looks really good for us. So I think this really increases our chances of getting into a regional and we gotta go take care of business in Missouri."
Reed opined that UK needs two wins in Columbia, Mo., to ensure its place in the NCAA Tournament while some experts say a sweep is needed, but the Cats aren't spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about all that.
"Our coaches try not to talk about it a lot because they want us to just go out there and relax," Reed said. "But we know what we need to do so we just do our best to go out here and take care of business."
A victory over a team leading the Big Ten is certainly a plus for a team looking to solidify its tourney resume, but the confidence built through earning it could be even more important.
Indiana came in ranked seventh nationally in earned-run average, but the Cats pounded out 10 hits and those two home runs. The performance comes on the heels of a weekend during which UK didn't pick up a win, but did pound out a pair of double-digit hit games.
"We started off really well at the beginning of the year and then when conference started we kind started dropping off a little bit and then we faced the two best pitching staffs in the country two weeks in a row with Arkansas and Vandy," Reed said. "We outhit the expectations of those two pitching staffs. So we're putting really good at-bats together, I think our hitters are starting to get confidence and it should be a really good weekend for us in Missouri."
The confidence is translating into a better approach at the plate.
"It's aggressive," Henderson said. "You guys see it. The body language is different. The presence is different."
That goes for the pitcher who started for UK on Tuesday as well.
For the second Tuesday in a row, Jerad Grundy excelled as UK's midweek starter. The win escaped him, but he allowed just one run over six innings and Henderson said the senior lefthander was in "complete control" outside of a Dustin DeMuth home run.
"It was huge for my confidence tonight to come out and have success again the second week in a row," Grundy said.
In all likelihood, Grundy will be an observer only this weekend in anticipation of next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament. But if his teammates can replicate the approach they all took on Tuesday, it will serve them well against Missouri.
"The only thing I told them is they need to go down there with the expectation that they need to take the wins," Henderson said. "You can't go down hoping. I don't know that we've done a lot of hoping this year. We certainly haven't played up to our expectations at times, but we need to go down with the right attitude."
Softball - For the fifth consecutive season the University of Kentucky softball team has received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament with the selection committee naming Kentucky as the No. 12 national seed and one of 16 regional host locations for the first time in program history. - This is the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in school history for Kentucky, who made its first showing in the tournament in 2009. The Wildcats hosted a NCAA Super Regional in 2011, dropping a best-of-three set to highly ranked Cal. All-time, UK is 8-8 in the NCAA Tournament. All tournament appearances have come under head coach Rachel Lawson. UK is one of 23 schools nationally to advance to five straight NCAA Tournaments. - Kentucky has earned 38 wins this season - the second most in school history - against some of the best teams in the nation, posting a 13-11 record in SEC action. Before falling in the first round of the SEC Tournament last week, Lawson and Co., had a historic weekend in Tuscaloosa, Ala., taking two of three games from top-10 ranked and defending national champion Alabama. The wins in Tuscaloosa were the first in school history for UK and its first-ever series win against the Tide.
Men's tennis - Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight season, a program first. UK collected wins over Western Michigan (4-0) and No. 41 Virginia Tech (4-1) to book its spot in Champaign, Ill. - Kentucky won the doubles point for the third straight match as the newly-formed tandem of Juan Pablo Murra and Anthony Rossi went 2-0 on the weekend with an 8-1 win on Friday and an 8-3 victory on Saturday afternoon. - Kentucky will take on the Duke Blue Devils, ranked No. 9 in the country, in the Sweet 16 on Thursday, May 16 at 8:00 p.m. ET. The match against the Blue Devils will be the Wildcats unprecedented 11th contest this season against teams that currently comprise the ITA top 10.
Track and field - Both the UK men's and women's teams finished seventh overall with 46 points each at the SEC Outdoor Championships. - The women's team earned its highest finish and point total since 2009 (sixth and 56th). - The Wildcat men's team had its highest finish and point total since 2011 (seventh and 54th). - Kentucky finished the 2013 SEC Championships with eight medals, two gold, three silver and three bronze. - Chelsea Oswald became the first ever Wildcat to win at both 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the same SEC Championships. - Andrew Evans, Raymond Dykstra and Matt Hillenbrand all earned silver medals in the discus, javelin and 1,500 meters respectively.
Baseball - The Kentucky baseball team completed a grueling stretch of 14 of 16 games against ranked foes with a three-game series sweep at the hands of No. 1 Vanderbilt. The Wildcats picked up a midweek win over Wright State, before falling in the three-game set at the hands of the record-breaking Dores. - The Wildcats picked up a 4-1 midweek win over Wright State on Tuesday behind a strong start from senior Jerad Grundy, in his midweek debut, and a three-hit game from freshman Kyle Barrett. - UK has been led at the plate by Barrett, who owns a .351 mark with four doubles, one triple, 14 RBI and four steals. - On the mound, UK has used the weekend rotation of Reed (2-7, 3.81 ERA), freshman righthander Kyle Cody (3-3, 4.82 ERA) and Littrell (5-5, 3.92 ERA) for two consecutive weeks. Grundy (6-5, 5.02 ERA) has also made 12 starts with 71.2 innings and 58 strikeouts.
Women's golf - The women's golf team wrapped up its season at the NCAA East Regional last week at the Auburn University Club, May 9-11. UK finished in 12th place in the 24-team regional, shooting 33-over-par for the tournament. - With the top-eight teams from the regional advancing to the NCAA Championships, the Wildcats' 12th place finish concluded their season but was their highest finish at the regionals in head coach Golda Borst's three-year tenure. Cylia Damerau, Sarah Harris and Betsie Johnson all tied for 60th at 9-over-par. - Kentucky broke the single-season record with a team stroke average of 301.1, shattering the previous school-record of 304.73 set last season. - Senior Ashleigh Albrecht wrapped up her career as one of the most decorative women's golfers in UK history. Her season stroke average of 75.07 was the lowest all-time at Kentucky, surpassing Mallory Blackwelder's mark of 75.34 set during the 2007-08 campaign. She also tied her own record with eight par or better rounds in 2012-13 and finished her career with the most par or better rounds in school history with 26.
Tuesday, May 14 Baseball hosts Indiana - 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 16 Baseball at Missouri - 7:00 p.m. Men's tennis vs. Duke - 8:00 p.m. (Champaign, Ill.) Men's golf at NCAA Regionals (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Friday, May 17 Baseball at Missouri - 7:00 p.m. Softball hosts Marshall - 7:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Men's tennis vs. UCLA/Vanderbilt (Champaign, Ill.) Men's golf at NCAA Regionals (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Saturday, May 18 Softball hosts Notre Dame/Michigan - 1:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Baseball at Missouri - 7:00 p.m. Softball if necessary game - 3:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Softball if necessary game - 6:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Men's golf at NCAA Regionals (Fayetteville, Ark.) Men's tennis at NCAA Tournament (Champaign, Ill.)
Sunday, May 19 Softball championship series - 1:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Softball if necessary game - 3:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Men's tennis at NCAA Tournament (Champaign, Ill.)
Overall Record: 28-22, 10-17 SEC Record Last Week: 1-3, 0-3 SEC
Recent Results Tuesday, May 7 - won vs. Wright State, 4-1 Saturday, May 11 - lost vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt, 3-11 Saturday, May 11 - lost vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt, 3-5 Sunday, May 11 - lost vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt, 5-10
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Tuesday, May 14 - vs. No. 14 Indiana - 6:30 p.m. [HOME FINALE] (Fox Sports South) Thursday, May 16 - at Missouri - 7 p.m. Friday, May 17 - at Missouri - 7 p.m. Saturday, May 18 - at Missouri - 2 p.m.
Team notes The Kentucky baseball team completed a grueling stretch of 14 of 16 games against ranked foes with a three-game series sweep at the hands of No. 1 Vanderbilt. The Wildcats picked up a midweek win over Wright State, before falling in the three-game set at the hands of the record-breaking Dores.
Kentucky (28-22, 10-17 Southeastern Conference) will host No. 14 Indiana on Tuesday in the home finale at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK will then conclude the regular-season with a three-game series at Missouri, with the first pitch of the lidlifter in Columbia, Mo., slated for 7 p.m. ET on Thursday.
The Wildcats picked up a 4-1 midweek win over Wright State on Tuesday behind a strong start from senior Jerad Grundy, in his midweek debut, and a three-hit game from freshman Kyle Barrett. After Friday's game with the powerhouse Dores was pushed to a Saturday doubleheader, VU jumped on UK standout starter A.J. Reed in the opener for 10 runs en route to an 11-3 win. In the finale of the doubleheader, VU posted a 5-3 win, as the Wildcats stranded the game-tying run on second base. On Sunday, Vandy got eight runs off UK starter Corey Littrell en route to a 10-5 win, with UK getting a monster homer from Reed and a two-run bomb from Max Kuhn - his second home run of the weekend.
UK has been led at the plate by Barrett, who owns a .351 mark with four doubles, one triple, 14 RBI and four steals. J.T. Riddle has hit .292 with seven doubles, one triple, one homer and 19 RBI, stealing six bags. Reed owns a .286 mark with eight doubles, two triples, 12 homers and 49 RBI, while Austin Cousino has hit .257 with 12 doubles, one triple, six homers and 25 RBI, swiping 12 bases. Kuhn has hit .246 with eight doubles, one triple, five homers and 29 RBI. Senior Zac Zellers has hit .244 with three homers, 25 RBI and seven steals.
On the mound, UK has used the weekend rotation of Reed (2-7, 3.81 ERA), freshman right-hander Kyle Cody (3-3, 4.82 ERA) and Littrell (5-5, 3.92 ERA) for two consecutive weeks. Grundy (6-5, 5.02 ERA) has also made 12 starts with 71.2 innings and 58 strikeouts.
In relief, senior Walter Wijas (2-0, 0.98 ERA) has a staff-best 25 outings, with junior Trevor Gott (4-1, 1.29 ERA) saving 11 games in 28 innings. Righty Chandler Shepherd (4-0, 3.26 ERA) has appeared in 22 games and hurled 47.1 frames, with UK also getting strong collegiate debuts from freshmen Ryne Combs (0-0, 2.01 ERA), Zach Strecker (1-1, 2.35 ERA) and Dylan Dwyer (1-0, 3.86 ERA).