With few returners offering stability this season, questions abounded heading into Monday’s season-opener. Among them:
- Could Orem continue their offensive prowess, especially with a new batting coach in tow?
- Who would replace Teravis Witherspoon’s athleticism at center field?
- Could the pitching improve after an inconsistent 2010 campaign?
In order, here’s how the Owlz answered Monday night:
Brent Brown Ballpark is batter friendly, to say the least. The left field fence lies a pedestrian 305 feet from the plate.
That being said, Monday’s record-breaking crowd was treated to scintillating offensive performances, particularly by rookies making their farm league debuts. Taylor Lindsey went 3-for-4 in his rookie debut, slightly better than the .556 he averaged as a senior in high school.
In other words, Monday was no fluke.
Frazier Hall went a perfect 3-for-3 in his first farm club game, including two RBI doubles that got the Owlz jump-started amidst an otherwise slow start. For all his grumblings about having barely met his roster, manager Tom Kotchman looked “lucky” putting Hall as the cleanup man in the lineup.
Kaleb Cowart took advantage of runners on base, going 2-for-4 for 2 RBI. Finally, Francis Larson’s three-run shot to left proved even the bottom of the order boasts firepower on occasion.
Whatever new hitting coach Tom Evans did over the weekend, it seems to have paid off early.
Kotchman made one thing clear following Monday’s win: there is no replacing former center fielder Travis Witherspoon.
“You can’t replace [Travis’] defense at center field,” Kotchman said. “When you have somebody like him, you’re just like ‘jeez’. Whoever’s going to be the center fielder, the first ball that goes over his head or the first ball he doesn’t catch, you’re going ‘Witherspoon would have caught it.'”
Fair enough. Kotchman and the Owlz were indeed spoiled by Witherspoon’s athletic highlights the last two years, something the Orem faithful were constantly looking forward to.
If anything, however, Brennan Gowens looked like a man intent on proving his predecessor can indeed be replicated, if not replaced.
The Fresno St. product had the stands roaring with his first play of his career, a diving catch to his right on a deep hit to left center. Initially, the ball appeared well on its way to no-man’s land. The crowd began to buzz, however, as it collectively realized Gowens indeed had a chance at it.
When he completed the play, the fans went nuts.
Ironically, Gowens didn’t.
“The outfielders were telling me where it was,” Gowens said. “I was just trusting them.”
And his game-saving throw from deep center to second base?
“Once again, the corner outfielders and infielders let me know where [the runner] was,” he said. “It was all on them. They made the play just as much as I did.”
It’s that attitude/ability combo that had Kotchman quickly forgiving Gowens’ 0-for-5 performance at the plate.
“It’s a perfect example of a guy who didn’t get any hits but made a big play at the end of the game,” Kotchman said.
The box says Joe Melioris got the win, but credit returner Aaron Meade with most of the work. In just over four innings’ of work, the Missouri State product struck out six and walked none before two bad pitches yielded two home runs and three runs overall.
Despite Meade only seeing seven games of action last season, Kotchman didn’t hesitate to say Meade had vastly improved after one game in 2011.
That’s good, because had Meade shown signs of his inconsistent 2010 form, things could have gone south quickly for Orem. Melioris held his own for all of one inning and change, but Daniel Reynolds appeared shaky, giving up two hits and hitting a batter in two innings.
Taylor Kinzer also had a mixed outing, narrowly avoiding the blown save thanks to Gowens’ heroics.
Expect Meade to be a staple in the rotation as Kotchman and pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman sort out the rest.