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Baseball Preseason Media Day

Preseason All-American Corey Littrell visits with the media on Monday.

Preseason All-American Corey Littrell visits with the media on Monday.

Feb. 4, 2013

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UK Head Coach Gary Henderson

Opening remarks …
“Thanks for being here. We appreciate it. We appreciate the interest in the program and taking the time to be here with us today. Also, I appreciate (head softball coach) Rachel (Lawson) willing to be a part of this with us. Our programs are close. We like Rachel, she likes us, and we’re glad we could make this a two-team event. We’re excited to get the season going. We’ve got a good group of kids. Lots of energy in the program. Lots of excitement with recruiting kids that have done well here, had good summers, had impressive falls. It’s a good group of kids. They like each other, they like to practice, they like to play, so it’s an exciting time for us.”

On if guys have approached the offseason with a different intensity due to the ending of 2012 …
“The thing that I think about it is that they like to play. That sounds a little trite, but it’s really, really important. The end of the season and how that affects them moving forward, I think that it affects their relationships, their personal relationships on the team. I think that’s important. I think how they perceive the summer experience is very much an individualistic kind of a perspective. I think they want to do better for each other. I think they like being here. They see we’ve got a chance to have a really good team, and they want to be a part of that. I think we probably had more kids have a positive outlook on summer baseball because of the type of people they are and maybe some of the things that we went through would be my perception of that.”

On if the team’s offensive make-up will change much …
“I don’t know about that yet. Certainly, as you look at it and what they’ve been able to do in the past, this group of kids, you would think that it might be the case. I’m not sure that going into last year we thought we had as much power as we ended up having. (Offensive Coordinator) Brian (Green) does a really good job with that every year. There’s been some years that we’ve started off a little bit slow in power production and it always seems to come around as we get more time outside or just more games and at-bats under our belt. I think right now as you look at it, it would be a group with less power. That may turn out to be true, but we’ve got some guys that I think have a chance to do some stuff. I don’t know that we’ll change our style drastically. Certainly you could see a few more stolen bases or a little bit more of a manufactured offense, but I wouldn’t tag that on us from the start.”

On the starting rotation …
“As I’ve told groups like this many, many times, I’m much more cut and dry than most guys in the league. I don’t think I’m setting any records, but I kind of like to get it set and keep it. Having said that, things happen that change. We’ve got four guys, in my mind, that could easily be weekend starters. Obviously it’s only going to be three. Because of what we’ve got in the bullpen, it makes sense to hold the right-hander back. Going into it, it will be Jerad (Grundy), Corey (Littrell), and A.J. (Reed). Certainly Chandler (Sheppard) is more than talented enough to do that for us as well, but we need what he has in the bullpen. That’s what we’ll start with. Sometimes things change, and sometimes they don’t. There’s been years here we’ve been those same three guys the entire year, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s three talented kids and they’ll do a very good job of competing and throwing strikes.”

On Shepherd throwing mid-week games …
“Well, I think that’s a TBA. In all fairness, part of that is who else can do it. If one of those younger guys can step up and do it, and do it well (then they may be in that role). Part of it is how many innings is (Chandler) throwing on Sunday? Those are the things you never know and you can’t control. Whoever the Sunday guy is, if they take a ball off the shin in the fourth inning and you go out there and wear Chandler out for five innings, for six innings, midweek’s not an option. He’s really talented and he’s going to be able to fill a number of roles for us. I’ll answer the next question, how are you going to replace Alex Phillips and Timmy Peterson? When you look at replacing those innings, and not only the innings but the quality and the timing of the innings, I think Chandler’s one of those guys that’s going to have to step into that. If you do that, then you’re almost guaranteed he’s not ready to go much on a Tuesday or a Wednesday.”

On what freshmen/newcomers he expects to contribute this season …
“It’s a little bit different than a year ago in that that group of guys are not going to be as old as they were last year. That’s my way of saying I’m really confident and I’m going to see how confident they are. Ryne Combs is certainly going to help. You talk about new guys into the program. Dylan Dwyer’s certainly going to help. There’s going to be a time where we’ve got to get some innings out of Tyler Cox, we’ve got to get some innings out of Taylor Martin and Jeff Boehm. Guys that are either in their first or second year of the program and haven’t done a lot in terms of innings pitched.  They’re going to have to pitch. It’s their time and they’re going to have to do some things. Kyle Cody is certainly going to have to pitch for us and he’s a freshman. They’re all going to get an opportunity. That’s the great thing about the first month in the season.”

On the veterans confidence in freshman RHP Kyle Cody
“Yeah, they should be (confident in Kyle). He’s going to be good. How soon and how much, you don’t know. But he’s a talented kid and we’ve got to get him past all the normal stubbing-your-toe-and-falling-down-and-scraping-your-knee events that happen, but he’s a talented kid and he’s going to end up being really, really good here.”

On the different atmosphere going into this season …
“I think that’s a fair question. Last year’s group had a pretty good chip on their shoulder. I think we’ll have the same type approach. You’re losing a couple personalities that really helped, older mature personalities, but there’s growth within the program. We have a lot of guys that are a part of that. I think we have enough personality as a club to carry the expectations.”

On the confidence and expectations affecting the long season …
“I think it’s really important. It’s baseball. There are going to be ups and downs. You follow the sport, it doesn’t make any difference at what level, it’s really important. I think the inner confidence that you know that you’re going to be successful even if you have some short-term failure is important. I think leadership within a program is important when you have a disappointing game, a disappointing weekend. Those things happen to every team in our league, unfortunately. It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s how it goes. I think when you have a really confident person, and more than one of them in the same environment, you start to create a culture of expectation and success. When it doesn’t go your way, you’re able to bounce back much more easily.”

On entering the season different than last year with his new contract …
“Yeah, my personality is just not going to change very much. You know? You’re life changes a little bit but it just doesn’t change very much. Brad (Bohannon) and Brian (Green) are probably better people to ask about that and those things. If you’re part of this league in just about any sport I think it’s game on from day one, I think it’s every year and I think as soon as you have a weekend where you’re supposed to win three and you only win two or win one, you’re kind of right back to where you started I  think. This will be my 14th year (in the SEC) and I haven’t seen a lot of change in that aspect of it. (The team is) a confident group, we’ve got continuity in our coach staff, we should be good. You know, there would be times last summer people would comment on the season or congratulate you for the season and I’d say, ‘we did a really good job, Reida never ran into Riddle on a pop-up.’ Or, ‘Cousino never collided with Witt in leftfield.’ We kind of did a nice job of staying injury free and we’d like to do that gain. Those are some of the things you can’t control, it’s nice to be coming off a season where you experienced some success but that’s done, it’s gone; it’s great to refer to. It’s a reservoir of success you can always draw from, the kids hear me say that all the time. But we get going in nine days, 10 days, whatever it is and it will be a new experience with a new group of kids.”

On replacing 62 of 63 starts behind the plate in 2013 …  
“(Luke Maile and Michael Williams) did everything behind the plate. And they hit some home runs. We’ve got Micheal Thomas who is in front right now. We’ve got three other guys; Greg Fettes is a redshirt freshman. Zach Arnold and Casey Schroeder are freshmen, all three of the kids have been drafted so we have some talented kids back there. Really happy with Micheal Thomas’ progression and development, maturity and growth and all those things that you look for, he’s done a great job. If anybody has followed the program at all during my time here, even before the time of being the head coach, you know that I’m a big advocate of two catchers. It doesn’t mean you have to do it that way, just means I like to do it that way for a couple of reasons and that’s exactly what we’ll shoot for this year. Micheal Thomas right now is the guy that we’re going to run out there early and see which one of those other three guys can grow into that position.”

On the corner positions in the infield and outfield …
“Well in the outfield, Lucas Witt and Zac Zellers are very, very good outfielders. We’ve got other guys that are knocking on the door to get opportunity; Jeff Boehm is certainly one of those. Kyle Barrett is another. But that gives us five guys that should comprise an outfield that’s, I would say, well-above average defensively so we feel really good about that. In the infield, we’ve got Max Kuhn and Paul McConkey coming back, they’re in a good battle over at third base. One is a right-handed hitter, Max is, Paul is left handed. That provides some excitement for you, you feel good about matching up over there if one guy doesn’t just grab the job and make you play him every day. But that has been a good competition. At first base we’ve got several options, including one of the guys at third moving over there, you’ve got Thomas Bernal who has done a very good job for us all fall and through the winter. A.J. Reed is clearly a guy that is going to spend some time over there. Jeff Boehm is a guy that could move in there so we’ve got several options in all four of those spots.”

On expectations for Frankfort natives J.T. Riddle and Zach Arnold
“Well, Zach is an easier question in that, you know, he’s got to try and carve out a nitch for himself in the program in terms of playing time. He’s going to end up being a very good player here, he’s really talented, he’s smart, he likes to work, kids enjoy being around him. Zach Arnold is at the same spot where a lot of freshmen are, if he can get comfortable and just let his skills play out then he’ll do something here that allows himself to get some time. J.T. is a shorter question; he’s going to be one of the better infielders, better second basemen in the country. He’s a really good player. Grown as a person, stronger physically, confidence level is much, much greater than it was. Just kind of the normal progression, communicates at a better level than he did two years ago. He’s a really good player.”

On centerfielder and All-American Austin Cousino’s ability and personality …
“I’m not sure you can separate them and I think they’re both really important. He’s a unique kid, very unique. He’s just really talented and really skilled and not scared. He’s Coach (Brian) Green’s favorite player when he’s hitting, he can make you a really good coach. Any time you have a kid like that in your program that other kids feed off of, I’m really proud of how he has responded a couple times in his career to failure that is inevitable in our sport. He doesn’t pout, he doesn’t mope, he’s a fun kid to be around. He’s smart; he’s got a good feel for the game so he’s a huge part of our program. We are big fans.”

On filling some holes on the roster, including right-handed hitting power and bullpen weapons …
“Well, the obvious things are, we need some right-handed hitting production that is gone. We need growth in the bullpen that is not there yet. You’re replacing (Alex) Phillips, you’re replacing Alex and Timmy (Peterson) with young guys. I probably know better than everybody else in here what that means but there is a bump along the way. It’s just, inevitably they’re not going to pitch as well as the two older kids did. The group that we have to fulfill that role is very talented, very talented but you can’t replace experience. When I look at it I see it’s going to take a little bit of time. We were 40-0 with the lead last year after the seventh. That’s a tough thing to try to replicate with younger people. If you had the same kids coming back, you’d feel good about having the same type of experience but we’ve got younger kids doing it so there will be some learning periods, some ups and downs down there. Having said that, we ought to be pretty good down there, I think we’ll be good down there."

On differences between this team and the 2012 club …
“I think there as much or more ownership within the group as we had last year, certainly more starting off than we had last year. I think this group of kids likes each other as much as any group I have ever been around anywhere and I don’t think that’s overreaching. I think I’m dead on, I think they like each other, they like to play, they like to practice. It’s a real attribute to the type of people they are, attribute to Brad (Bohannon) and the type of people we have brought in here, attribute to the rest of our coaches, the culture, they like each other. That doesn’t mean there is never a disagreement because that’s not the case. I think they very much so enjoy seeing each other on a daily basis and when you have that type of culture, that type of group, I think it’s easier to get over the disappointments.”

On the importance of playing well at home and the 2012 homestand early in the year …
“I really don’t know. You see where it takes you. We have a number of games at home so we are fine in that regard. There is plenty of time to get comfortable and play and get in a routine. I am just hoping that we play well.”

On UK ranking second in the NCAA in drafted players on 2013 rosters …
“There are a few answers to that question. The first thing it says is that Brad (Bohannon) is doing a good job at getting the right people interested in the program and getting them here. That is an obvious piece. In terms of the development that happens in the program, I think Jerad (Grundy) is the only one that has been drafted and came back. From that impact there is not a lot but in the recruiting process you are able to show what has happened here in the last five, or eight, or 10 years; probably the last eight (years) really. In terms of development is a really good selling point. And the families can latch onto that to prove what has happened here. There is a track record of success and that is certainly a really nice part of our program. You are really proud of what Brad has done, and the rest of the staff as well. The fact that we can draw those types of people to the program is nice. Now that isn’t going to mean a whole lot next Friday.”

On Jerad Grundy’s return for his senior season as a junior MLB Draft pick …
“It is interesting because there is a certain level of convincing when you have those kids come back. That is just the bottom line, you sit in front of the kid and say ‘don’t take the money, you can come back and we can make you better’. I’ve gone through that a few times, a couple of times, very specifically, it has gone much better for the kids. It went better for (Chris) Rusin. It went better for Scott Nicholson at Oregon State and now Jerad, all three of those guys are left-handed pitchers. I just told him as we got into that, and really I didn’t pester him during the course of the summer, I talked to his father a little bit. But, I just tell them, here are the three or four things (why to come back). It is very clear in my mind and I want to make it clear in theirs. This, that and the other. It is A, B and C. That is about how direct it is. And if you do these three things better, at a higher level, more consistency, it is going to go better for you. While those three (left-handed pitchers) are vastly different kids and personalities, all three have bought in. Jerad is better. He is clearly better and it is exciting. It is very exciting when that happens and it makes you feel better about what you communicated with the family.”

On the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri to the nation’s best college baseball conference …
“To me it is just one more weekend. And I don’t mean that as any disrespect to anyone in our league. A year ago if you had asked everyone in the league who they wanted to play, they would have said Kentucky and Tennessee. And when the year was over they had a different answer. So when you look at it, who is going to be good and who is not going to be good, I just look at it as Missouri and Texas A&M are going to have really good teams. Doesn’t make a difference if you are playing Mississippi State, LSU, Vandy, Carolina or the Gators. To me it is all the same. Sometimes you benefit a little from the matchup, or the matchup doesn’t favor you, but those are two very good programs that are very well respected throughout the country. Luckily it is still 10 weekends. I would probably have a different answer if it was 11 or 12 (weekends). It is 10 weekends of ‘let’s go’.”

On playing 40-percent of its schedule against preseason top-17 ranked teams …
“I don’t know if that is standard or if that is unusual. We could probably tell you with some research. But I think one of the things that I like, is that I’ve been here long enough that I just don’t get wrapped up in it anymore. It is my 14th year (in the SEC) and it is what it is. It is going to be great. It is going to be fun. Our kids love it. Our coaches love it. It is a great place to be. It is a great part of being here. It is really competitive every week. Sometimes you run into a club that is similar to you but they are really hot. Sometimes you run into a club that is similar to you but they are injured or not playing well. There are ups and downs and you can’t predict any of that going in. It is an exciting profession.”

On addressing the final weekend of 2012 or the Gary, Ind., regional snub with the team …
“I haven’t addressed the club on those two topics. What I would do personally is get someone individually. Then I would wear them out if I felt like I needed to or wanted to. But I don’t think that is something to address with the club, I don’t think. I might talk to Corey about that performance in Starkville. Or look back at the things that I didn’t do a good job of, or I could’ve done a better job of. I am not going to spend much time on it. I don’t think you can. There are little things that happened that you would like to improve on or take a look at and maybe next time you adjust something a little different. We played pretty well and then we had a rough weekend. Everyone in our league had a rough weekend. Ours was unfortunately the last one. But you can’t spend much time beating yourself up in this deal. You have to get on to the next thing. Our kids will. If they are motivated because they want to host a Super Regional and make a plane flight to Nebraska, then good. But we aren’t going to spend a lot of time with that.”

On if he addresses the College World Series with the team …
“Yeah, but I don’t talk about it much. You talk SEC Championship, you talk going to Omaha. I think you touch on all of that stuff. I am just a big believer on needing to take care of today, today. And take care of tomorrow, tomorrow. I think if you spend all your time talking about what is going to happen in June it is easy to forget what you need to be doing in February. And that is just my approach and I think our staff would reflect that as well. If you really buy into the process of what is going on daily and you maximize your abilities, continue to improve your focus and your concentration, your work habits. If you keep getting better at those things, you have a chance to have some really good things happen.”

UK Student-Athlete Quotes

#19, Austin Cousino, CF

On how the team can improve after eight guys signed pro contracts …
“That’s a lot to replace but I think that with the freshmen coming in, they know what to expect. They saw the successful season we had last year and they came in and just hit the ground running. That’s awesome to see, we can just kind of carry them with us, they want to be successful, they want to be part of the group. When you have Corey (Littrell), (Jerad) Grundy and now A.J. (Reed) is going to step in or if it’s (Chandler) Shep (Shepherd) into that weekend role, we’ve got the pitching, the defense that we know what it takes to be successful. When you just bring those freshmen in I think they can only be better for the program. I think it’s going to be great for us from here on out.”

On what the team can build on from 2012 …  
“Well, we can take a lot. I think that we had a lot of freshmen that could have competed last year if it weren’t for upperclassmen being successful. I think that Max Kuhn is going to step up this year; I think that Kyle Cody, freshman pitcher from Wisconsin, will. I think there is (Ryne) Combs and a couple other arms out of the pen, if not in midweek roles that are going to step up and contribute. I think that me, A.J., Chandler, from last year can understand where they’re at and I think that’s the great thing about this program; we have people contributing from all classes. You understand where they’re at in their career; maybe they’re a little nervous or a little immature, immaturity here and there. Corey has pitched in the SEC for three years; you have (Matt) Reida that has played infield in the SEC for years now. It’s just reloading now; it’s not really ever rebuilding which is nice. I think we’ve paved the ground for the baseball program for years to come here.”

On using the bitter taste from the Gary Regional to stay focus …
“Oh yeah, definitely. I was actually thinking about it the other day. I remember what it was like seeing Kent State dogpile there at Gary. It was hard to believe, I was from Ohio, I played with a dozen of those kids and I was recruited by that staff. They’re all great kids, great staff and it was something that, coming here to Kentucky, it seemed like a very realistic goal for me. When you put all the names on the paper and go out to the field it’s something that you grow up dreaming of and then it becomes a reality, being that close and it not going the way you want, it definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth. I think we have the coaching staff who has – Coach Henderson has been to Omaha twice, Coach Green coached at UCLA, great program there, Coach Bohannon is one of the best recruiters. I think we have all the tools and assets that we can utilize to get to the next level here at Kentucky. I think that we’ve got a bunch of players here that remember what it was to like to see Kent State, not steal the game necessarily, but they played their hearts out (to win the regional championship) and we definitely remember it.”



#5, Trevor Gott, RHP

On if he felt like the team left a lot on the table after last year…
After losing in Gary, it hurt really bad. We thought we should have hosted and we didn’t. I think there’s a lot of unfinished business. All of the guys coming back think we should be in Omaha this year.”

On how this team can use the loss in Gary and not winning the SEC as fuel for this season…
“The personality of our guys is a tough knit, hard-nosed, baseball team and losing at Mississippi State, that hurt, that was awful. Just the whole Gary situation, we didn’t like that either. A lot of guys are pissed off, I would say. I think we will come out with a chip on our shoulder and take it to everybody.”

On his health and where he is at right now…
“I had a little minor bursitis. It was nothing serious. Coach Henderson just didn’t want anything to develop or anything to get worse. I took two months off and I am 100-percent.”

On how he feels about this staff after losing Taylor Rogers and a couple of other guys…
“We lost Taylor of course, which was our Friday night guy and we have a lot of returning pitching. Grundy came back for us. It is Corey’s third year with two years of experience pitching on weekends. We have Walter (Wjas) in the bullpen; me in the bullpen, Chandler (Shepherd) and A.J. (Reed) had a lot of experience last year also. Ryne Combs might fill in for Sam (Mahar), as a left-handed specialist type deal. I love our depth and I am very confident in it.”

#21, Corey Littrell, LHP

On who he sees filling in the spots for pitching…

“I think a lot of the freshmen, a few of them, Kyle Cody especially, Ryne Combs and Dylan Dwyer are going to be huge guys, I think, that are going to help us out in the bullpen being young guys. Then, plus we’ve got Trevor (Gott) and Chandler (Shepherd) and A.J. (Reed) and (Jerad) Grundy. I think our bullpen and our pitching staff is going to be really good.”

On whether there is a different feeling this year after last year’s success …
“Yes it does. You walk around with a little bit bigger chest than you did after our freshman year because, I mean, winning like that last year, being the winningest team in program history, it’s kind of an honor and you just want to walk around and show everyone like, ‘Yeah, we’re on this, this is our team. We did this. This is us.’”

On how his expectations change after such a successful season …
“Like you said, last year we had such a successful season, it’s hard to not think about last year but like we’ve said, like our coaches told us, this is a new year. This is a new team. We’ve got new people and we still have one goal. We want to be better than we were last year. Last year is good for us to build on as a program to show us that we are successful and to give us confidence knowing that we can win in this league but this is a new year and a new team and so we have to set new goals.”





 

 

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