Notes & Quotes: UCF Baseball (1/27)

University of Central Florida head coach Greg Lovelady directs his team during the team's first practice of the preseason at Jay Bergman Field on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. (Photo by Victor Tan / New Day Review)

Jan. 27, 2017 at Jay Bergman Field

Availability: HC Greg Lovelady, RHP Robby Howell, RHP/INF Kyle Marsh

HC Greg Lovelady

Lovelady was hired by the University of Central Florida on July 11, 2016.

It’s been a great fall and a great early part of this winter. The guys have really done a great job of putting forth great effort buying in. I’m really excited to get the games going. There’s only so much you can learn from this group. It’s just a different feeling ‘cus, normally as a head coach, you kinda know what 75 percent of what you have. And then you have the new 25 percent that you’re trying to add into the mix. Here, it’s all 100 percent new for me. So I’m definitely excited to see what happens when the lights turn on. There’s always kids that play better when the lights turn on, and there’s always the opposite. So, we got three weeks to figure out some lineup stuff and three weeks to get better. But I’m definitely excited for Opening Day.

When asked about what he saw during the fall practices, Lovelady said he saw guys buying into his staff’s message.

Definitely very happy with the amount of talent that we have. I think always coming into a situation like I did, you’re always concerned about that. But I definitely think we have the talent. The guys have really bought in nutritionally. We’ve seen a lot of changes in bodies. And that’s led to a lot of velo jumps on the pitching side, a lot less injuries. But we have a veteran group, and I think they’re all hungry—all hungry to win, all hungry to prove that this place is special. So I think when you mix those two different types of things, I think you have the opportunity to have a good group. So, we’ll see tough we are when we get punched in the face. Kinda, do we stay with the plan, stay with the process that we’ve taught them? Or do they try to revert back to the way things were? So, that’ll be our biggest challenge. But definitely excited about the talent. Definitely was a very positive thing for me and something that I wasn’t expecting. So I’m definitely happy with that.

With the hiring of new head coaches in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball, each of the respective teams have gone on to have revivals of the programs. The football team went 6-7 and made it to a bowl game after going 0-12 in the 2015 season. The men’s and women’s basketball teams are off to historic starts in both the American Athletic Conference and in UCF history.

At the Christmas party, I went up to [UCF women’s basketball head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson] and told her like, “Hey. Like, you guys gotta slow it down. I’m the last one here. You guys are putting a lot of pressure on me to follow suit.” I’m not a big pressure guy. I understand that there’s a process to all this. My process might be different than [UCF football head coach Scott Frost’s] or than [UCF men’s basketball head coach Johnny Dawkins’] or Katie’s, so I just can’t compare myself to them. I’m just gonna go out and try to get better every single day. But I’ve definitely seen them in the back of my mind. I know that there’s an expectation here for this program. But that’s part of the reason why I came here. So that didn’t change with the way that those coaches have done such a great job. I mean, I got high expectations for the program myself, so I’m excited to go out, get better every day and try to live up to those.

For Lovelady, his standout leaders so far have been Luke HamblinRyan CrileJuan Pimentel and Howell.

There’s been a handful of guys, leadership-wise. Luke Hamblin, Ryan Crile, Juan Pimentel’s been phenomenal, Robby Howell—those are guys that have really stood out, leadership-wise. I think we got talent all the way around the field. Excited for some of the pitchers. Really have stepped up. Some reports that we got, scouting reports that we had on the guys going in, and they were there—that’s where they were at when we got here. But they’ve made some big jumps over the course of the fall. So, I think top to bottom I’ve been really, really impressed. I don’t think there’s been one guy that’s really, you know, really, really stood out. Anything normal, out of normal than what I expected—but I think just from top to bottom, I was excited that everybody kinda played better than I thought they would.

When asked about position battles, Lovelady said every position is up for the taking.

I think there’s a lot of position battles that are open. I think DH, first base, second base, couple spots in the outfield and, really, all the pitching spots are pretty wide open. I got it kinda narrowed down, maybe, from 17 starting pitchers to maybe six or seven. But I’m not closing the book on anybody. I’ve told everybody it’s a clean slate. Again, nothing that they’ve done last year guarantees them anything because past success doesn’t guarantee future success. So they know they gotta keep working, and no matter whether I was here last year or not—I don’t care if I was here last year, and you were an All-American—you gotta come out every day and prove that that job is still yours. So, we’ll wait until the last possible minute to figure out what the starting lineup would be.

Marsh was out all last season because of injury.

He’s really done a great job offensively lately. Really done a phenomenal job. In the fall, I think there was a lot of pressure on him coming back, not pitching in a game for 18 months. A lot of that having to do with how much he wanted to swing and kinda not put too much pressure on his arm. So it was a very up-and-down fall. But the talent was there. But you saw some 97s on the gun and things like that. But it’s really tough when you haven’t pitched in 18 months to have a great feel period. And then when you add a new coaching staff that you’re trying to impress and all that—I think there was a lot of undue stress on him. But you definitelly see a different person since we’ve been back in the winter. A lot more relaxed, a lot more comfortable. So, offensively, he’s really, really made a huge jump. And then so far in his bullpens and stuff, you can definitely see the feel is starting to get back there. So, I’m not really, again, having too many expectations. I don’t want him to feel like I need him to be an All-American or a No. 1 or a three-hole hitter. I just want him to go out and have fun and play the game and just have fun and enjoy it, and the lineup with him in it will take care of himself.

When asked if Marsh would play the infield, Lovelady said redshirt sophomore has been playing a lot of left field.

He’s actually doing a lot in left field. Just trying to save his arm. I’m just worried about—he’s played a little bit of first base, a little bit of left field. Definitely think that I’m kinda leaning towards left field right now just based on some of the other guys and stuff—just trying to get more bats in the lineup. And then just trying to protect him. Middle infielders throw a lot, and I’m just concerned about that. Don’t wanna put too much undue stress on his arm where he can’t be as effective as a two-way guy on the mound. So he has the talent to be a big-time, big-time guy for us on the mound. But he has, also, the ability to be a middle-of-the-order-type guy offensively. So, we gotta make sure we protect him, do what’s best for him and his future and do what we can to make sure he’s at his maximum ability on both sides for the whole season.

As a player, Lovelady won national championships with the University of Miami in 1999 and 2001. Coaching-wise, the 38-year-old recorded a 124-56 record with Wright State University, leading his team to consecutive runner-up finishes in NCAA Regionals in 2015 and 2016.

For me, again, it’s just about process. I believe in really focusing on that. Doing all the little things. We talk about trying to do ordinary things with extraordinary preciseness and doing that daily, knowing that those things are important. And if you care about the kids, and you care about the little things, and you care about the process, I honestly believe that the winning happens. And then if you focus on that stuff, I believe it’s just too much pressure for the kids. They lose sight of what’s important. And we just gotta trust our abilities. Trust our ability to coach, trust their abilities as players and just go out work and have fun and take care of those little things and work hard every day. Their work ethic has to be extraordinary. Their ability to—nutritionally, they gotta be extraordinary. Their work ethic. Like I said, just those types of things have to be extraordinary. And when you do those types of things at ordinary things, then you end up having good results. And I just firmly believe that. They know that. We’ve hammered that home since the day I got here. So, we’ll go out every day, try to get better and make sure that we’re the best possible team that we can and may and really let the wins and losses fall where they may.

When asked about seeing improvements from last year’s players, Lovelady mentioned Howell and Pimentel.

Robby’s lost 35 pounds, looks phenomenal. His velo—he was a little bit banged up and only got to throw the last couple of weeks but looked phenomenal. Juan’s velo—he’s lost a bunch of weight, body fat. You know, the reports that we got back were 84 to 87. He’s been up to 93. And sometimes you that in freshmen, young guys because there’s a maturity and the weightlifting—all that kind of stuff. Now you’re talking about a fourth-year senior that is making those types of jumps. I think that shows the kids how important nutrition is, how important the weightlifting stuff is that we’re doing. [Sports performance assistant coach] Jamie Burleson’s just done a phenomenal job in the weight room with the guys. And, again, just the way we train, the way we lift, the way we eat—that all matters. And those are ordinary things that you don’t have to be a powerlifter or somebody that is just God-given those things or things that choices that you can make. So, I think that showed our guys a lot that, “Hey. Look at these two guys and the jumps that they’ve made.” And it’s definitely spread through the team. But I think everybody, just staying healthy. I think they had a lot of nnick-knack injuries in the past, and we just haven’t had many of those so far. And I think a lot of that’s been the weightlifting and nutrition. But, again, that’s not something that’s a once-in-a-while thing or an early-season thing. That’s an everyday thing. We gotta continue to do that so that at the end of the season, we’re healthy and playing to the best of our abilities.

RHP Robby Howell

Howell lost 35 pounds over the offseason.

I just wanted to make sure that this year I was able to stay a little bit more healthy than last year. It’s kinda hard to recover at times last year, just being a little bit heavier and just losing a little bit of weight helped me be a little bit more athletic and obviously recover a lot faster just ‘cus I’m healthier.

When asked about how he approached weight loss, Howell said it was based mainly off his own research.

I kinda just did some research on my own a little bit and kinda just figured out what I needed to do to drop a little bit of weight and just to make sure that this year I was better than I was last year.

When asked about how he feels at approximately 218 pounds, Howell said he feels a difference in his recovery.

I can definitely say that just a little bit of throwing that we’ve been doing that I recover a lot faster. I really am not sore many times after throwing, and it’s definitely a lot easier to throw a good amount of pitches and throw everything with the intent that you wanna throw it at a better weight. So it’s definitely a lot better.

Since arriving to UCF, Lovelady and his staff have implemented what the players see as a more relaxed environment.

It’s awesome. These guys came in and took us under their wing like they had known us for years. It’s a lot of fun. These guys, you know, they keep it light around here. And just the whole culture has changed. And it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy being out here.

The team has been practicing since Aug. 26.

We are pumped to get going. We’ve been working hard since Aug. 26 when they got here. It’s just exciting to get around to this time of the year. We’re all ready to go. Ready for our first scrimmage today and ready to get it going.

When asked about the difference between this year’s staff and last year’s, Howell said it was about being able to be who you are.

It’s just a lot more loose. And we can kinda be ourselves than we were last year. And it’s awesome just to be able to come out here and be your own individual person and be able to do the things that you’re good at. It’s a lot of fun with these guys. It’s gonna be an awesome year.

When asked about what he worked on over the offseason, Howell said he’s been working on his athleticism.

I’ve definitely tried to continue to throw more strikes. And definitely just working on my athleticism a little bit and getting stronger in the weight room are things that I definitely worked on this year. Pitching-wise, I kinda wanted to redo a lot of the same things I did last year. And a lot of the same things that they’re teaching is dominating early and getting ahead and making sure to stay down in the zone and get guys out. So it’s pretty much just same kind of stuff, pitching-wise.

When asked about who he thought were players to look out for in the 2017 season, Howell mentioned Rylan Thomas and Marsh.

Definitely think Rylan Thomas is gonna be a guy that a lot of guys are gonna watch out of the pen and as a hitter. He’s gonna do a lot of things for us, I think. And then, obviously, we have Marsh is gonna be a huge addition for us this year. Having him back, it’s gonna be good. He’ll be out of the pen or probably play somewhere in the field too. So maybe those are two guys that are really gonna be really, really in our team this year. And I think [Logan] Heiser being healthy a little bit this year after having his hip surgery this offseason will help us a lot too.

When asked about the expectations from the players, Howell said he’s a one-pitch-at-a-time kind of guy.

You know, I’m the one that’s taking one pitch at a time. We gotta worry about today. Worry about today’s scrimmage and making sure we get better today and going into tomorrow’s scrimmage this weekend. So we just need to worry about today, getting better today and move on after this and go day by day.

Lovelady’s message in his first year so far has been about the process of getting better.

Just to focus on right now, not to worry about the future. ‘Cus we got a lot of time before the season. Twenty-one days is a lot of time. Like I said, we’ve got a big practice today to make sure we get better today. And then this weekend, we got a huge weekend this weekend. The scrimmages and just the next few weeks, they’re gonna be big going into the season.

When asked about feeling pressure from the other UCF sports teams having revivals, Howell said he wants the baseball team to have one for itself.

For me, I wouldn’t say it’s pressure, to be honest. There’s a lot of excitement around here. Just seeing what the other programs are doing with new coaches and everything, it’s a lot of excitement for me and for this team here ‘cus a lot of guys are returning. We got a lot of seniors on this team that we want the revitalization of this program, for sure. And I know the same for myself. I’m super excited to get this season started.

RHP/INF Ryan Marsh

When asked about what it was like being injured the entire season, Marsh said the experience humbled him.

It’s been a while, and I’ve been waiting about a year and half now, with the rehab and throwing programs. Finally getting back out there is awesome.

It was tough in the beginning. I fought through it in the beginning. I was a little down on myself ‘cus I wanted to play last year. But I think it was good for me because I settled down a little bit and got to work out a little more, get bigger in the weight room. Just basically humbled myself and get ready for the following year.

In 2015, Marsh hit 0.299 with 37 RBIs and five home runs.

I don’t know for sure. I know I’m doing both ways again, and I’ll play the field and pitch. I think there’ll be a little bit more pitching this year just ‘cus I obviously got the surgery and everything, and I’m ready to go. So, I think I’ll do both again and see where it takes me.

After conversations with Lovelady, Marsh said he’ll be pitching more this season.

I talked to Coach, and I’ll be pitching a little bit more this year. So they’re trying to save my arm. Like you said, I played second my freshman year. I played a little bit of first in the fall and left. So, basically, wherever I’m put, I’ll play. But that’s where I’ve been mostly throughout the fall and beginning of the spring.

I’m not sure [if I’ll start or close]. I think in the beginning, I might come out of the bullpen a little bit ‘cus I don’t have enough innings under me yet. I think I’ll work my way up. Just take it from there day by day and do whatever I need to do to help the team out.

Marsh underwent Tommy John surgery and says he feels stronger than before.

I think I came back a lot stronger and better than I was before. I think the surgery really helped me. Like I said, getting in the weight room, doing all my arm care and everything. But I think I came back a lot stronger.

While sidelined, Marsh said he was able to experience the mental aspect of the game more.

I think sitting in the dugout and watching every game and just learning from my teammates, like, just the attitudes after like a bad at-bat or a bad inning. Learning the game like that, the mental side of it, really helped me. And same thing with a nutrition-wise, outside of the baseball field, like, getting in the weight room, eating right, drinking right and keeping myself in shape. So, I think that’ll help me a lot.

When asked how good he thinks the team will be this season, like Howell, Marsh said it was about taking it one day at a time.

We take it one day at a time, but I think this team has a lot of potential. And I think that we could go far this year if we put our minds to it. But it’ll be a fun year, I know that, and we just gotta work really hard and come out with all the new coaches and stuff like that. So I think we have a really good chance. We just gotta come out and show everybody.