Feb. 4, 2008
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - With the implementation of a later start to the 2008 season, the depth of the 'Jacks pitching staff will be tested this season from top to bottom; however, the grind and success of 2007 seems to have primed a seasoned pitching staff for another run at the Southland Conference Tournament.
The 'Jacks said goodbye to a pair of pitchers - Jake Leonhardt and David Miller - in last year's MLB Draft, but return the nucleus of the staff in '08. Nine of the 14 pitchers that saw action last year are making another go-round this season, a group that combined to toss 423 of the 516 (82 percent) innings the 'Jacks played in last season.
"I'm really excited about our pitching this season," Watson said. "I think we have a good mix of upper-classmen and newcomers, and I think what we posses at the top and bottom of our staff can win us a lot of games."
Watson has the luxury of returning his top three starters from last year - senior Lance Luetge and juniors Erich Lehmann and Jared Schrom. That trio carried the bulk of the load last season and will likely be asked to do much of the same in the upcoming season. Those three combined to start 50 of the 'Jacks 59 games last year, with no other Lumberjack on the staff starting more than five games.
Lehmann already has established himself as the workhorse of the Lumberjack pitching staff in his first two seasons, having put up a 17-5 record in his time in Nacogdoches. Last season he led the 'Jacks in wins (9), innings pitched (109.0) and strikeouts (82) on his way to All-Southland Conference honors after being named a Freshman All-American in 2006.
"What can you say about Erich Lehmann?" Watson said. "I know I can throw him out there every time his arm is ready, and he is going to give us a chance to win a game."
Though only a junior, Lehmann already holds SFA records for starts and wins and is only 21 strikeouts away from moving into first all-time in that category as well. To compare him with the rest of the Southland Conference during his career, no other pitcher in the SLC has picked up more wins in the last two years than Lehmann's 17.
Lance Luetge - a 6-foot- 4-inch left-hander from Industry, Texas - returns as one of only three left-handed pitchers on the 'Jacks staff and finished third on the squad with 85 innings pitched last season. Luetge had one of the most memorable individual moments of 2007 when he took a no-hitter through two outs in the ninth inning before surrendering a hit against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, a performance that would earn him Southland Conference Pitcher of the Week honors.
"Getting Lance back for this season was a huge boost for us," Watson said. "He's a big, left-handed kid who provides stability, depth and experience for our rotation."
Even though he finished third on the team with 52 strikeouts, he finds much of his success when the ball meets bat as he had the second best ground-out/fly-out ratio for SFA in '07 and could also see spot duty out of the bullpen as the year moves on.
Junior Jared Schrom is the third member of the starting triumvirate from a year ago, and Watson has been very pleased with his development so far. Schrom ate up 95 innings for SFA last year and will be asked to carry a similar load in '08.
Even with those three expected to lug the majority of the innings, Watson still has options for more starters and feels as though Kevin Thomas, Erik Gregersen and Heath Konesheck all will see time on the mound in starting roles this season.
Watson says Thomas could play a big role in this year's rotation and that his "rubber-band arm" could allow him to start on any day of the week and then, in a short turnaround period, come back and provide the team with a couple of innings in relief.
Konesheck made 25 appearances last season, and the left-hander will have a chance to be a starter in 2008, in addition to being a very valuable asset in the bullpen, while the wild card on the staff could be Gregersen.
A 6-foot-5-inch right-hander from Sugar Land, Texas, Gregersen had a great fall camp according to Watson and could see himself in a role similar to that of Thomas. No stranger to starting, Gregersen got three starts as a freshman in 2006, and in two years has shown flashes of dominant ability. This year he will be utilized as not only a starter but also in relief and possibly as a spot closer.
The 'Jacks open up the season Feb. 22 in Edinburg, Texas, at the UT-Pan American Tournament against Texas State. They will follow that up with games against UTPA and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi before taking part in the Baylor Tournament the following week.
Check back with sfajacks.com for more updates on Lumberjack baseball.
Feb. 4 - Starting Pitching
Feb. 7 - Relief Pitching
Feb. 11 - Catchers
Feb. 13 - Infielders
Feb. 18 - Outfielders