Second-year Grayson County High School baseball head coach Jody Nutt is hoping constant reminders delivered to his pitching staff have sunk in as they open the season.
Last year, Nutt said his pitching staff continually fell behind hitters in the count and issued too many walks, giving hitters an advantage.
A year later and with several staff returnees, Nutt expects his pitchers not to have those issues as often.
“We’ve really been preaching about it to them to get ahead in the count and throw strikes early to get an advantage,” Nutt said.
During a 7-17 season in 2022, Cougar pitchers averaged nearly one walk per inning, finishing with 130 free passes in 143 2/3 innings.
“The last two to three weeks we have focused on pitching to live batters so that should help them, and it should help the batters to see live pitching,” Nutt said. “Our pitching was an issue last year so if we can fix that, we should be okay.”
Among the key returnees on the staff are freshman Gage Napier, senior Camden Brothers, junior Landon Shiarella, and sophomores Levi Rogers and Landon Haycraft. He also said players such as senior Hunter Felty, and juniors Keaton Hodges and Jared Roney are among others who will see pitching time.
“We have seven to nine arms to work with, and a lot of them are infielders and outfielders who will be throwing,” Nutt said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement out of them.”
Napier and Rogers each saw action in a team-high 12 games last season with Napier earning two wins as mostly a relief pitcher. He also had only 14 walks in 41 innings pitched.
11 of Rogers’ 12 appearances were in relief.
“We have guys who will get an opportunity to pitch,” Nutt said.
He said where players play from game-to-game could change often with so many playing multiple positions.
At catcher, sophomore Landen Mattingly and Haycraft will see action. Haycraft hit .324 in 34 at-bats last season and Mattingly hit .200 in five at-bats.
Junior Sawyer Drake will play first base after hitting .222 in nine games as a sophomore. At second base, Haycraft, Felty and Roney are contending for playing time.
The shortstop will be senior Eli Watson. Watson batted .224 with a homerun last season while playing third base.
Hodges and Rogers are among the contenders to take over at third base, Nutt said.
“We have depth in our infield,” Nutt said. “It’s been more than competitive in the infield. We’ll just have to see who is where when we roll with it.”
The outfield is a little more settled with senior Andrew Butler in left field, Brothers in center field and Shiarella in right field.
Shiarella hit .333 with five doubles last season, while Brothers also batted .333 and was among the team leaders with 12 runs batted in. Butler appeared in nine games last season and hit .143.
Junior Jeren VanMeter will be the designated hitter and was the Cougars’ top hitter last season with a .408 batting average. He stole 22 bases in 23 attempts and also led the team with 29 hits and 19 runs scored.
“We have a really good will to win,” Nutt said. “They’re focused and just excited to get to the next practice and to get better. The team chemistry has been pretty good and they all like each other, and they see the need to turn this thing around.”
The Cougars haven’t had a winning season since 2015 when they went 23-12 and won the 12th District Tournament.
“My goal is to win 20 games, win district and make a run at region,” Nutt said. “I’m not as worried where we’re at in March or the middle of the year as where we are in May; I like where we’re at right now.”
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