RUXER STILL ‘HUNGRY' FOR BETTER YEAR
University of Louisville sophomore pitcher Jared Ruxer has a sensational freshman season, earning Big East Rookie of the Year honors along with being named a Louisville Slugger and NCBWA Freshman All-American.
Ruxer finished the season with an 8-3 mark, including a 3.83 ERA, 32 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 77.1 innings of work.
Now, Ruxer is expected to be one of the leaders in the starting rotation for the Cardinals, considered one of the best teams in the country this season.
"He was very, very consistent in the fall," U of L coach Dan McDonnell said. "Our expectations for him – he was just so good as a freshman, so we expect a lot out of him. He showed us in the fall that he's still there. He's still hungry."
McDonnell said he had a chat with Ruxer at the end of last season, talking about expectations and making sure he stayed hungry.
"We told him there was a reason they call it a sophomore slump," McDonnell said. "I didn't make it up but in the world of athletics, what happens is that you think you have arrived. The challenge and my fear for a guy like Ruxer is that you think you have arrived and you take your foot off the pedal a little bit.
"I told him that was my fear. I didn't want others to outwork him and be hungrier that he was and pass him up. But he's a very mature and bright kid."
The competition for a spot in the rotation will be "very competitive" with four guys battling, according to McDonnell. Ruxer, Jeff Thompson and Chad Green are three, while he also mentioned Kyle Funkhouser, Dace Kime and Joe Ceja.
"We are dealing with amateurs and not guys like Derek Jeter or Tom Brady," McDonnell said. "What makes the great ones great is they don't need anybody to push them. But I've never had a great Friday night starter without a great Saturday guy breathing down his neck. We have some guys going at it."
"We sat Ruxer down and told him, there's going to be another Ruxer come along. But he's really worked hard and responded."
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STAFF
In a preseason write up about the Cardinals, Baseball America lauded the Cardinals for a few things, including what the magazine called "a stellar staff."
The magazine said the coaching staff "functions like a well-oiled machine." Assistant coach Chris Lemonis and Roger Williams have both been with McDonnell since he took over the U of L program. The staff is in its seventh year.
Brian Mundorf is the programs director of operations and has been with the program since 1996, while Kyle Cheesebrough is in his second season as an assistant coach with the Cardinals.
"Having four us being together now going into our seventh year had meant a lot to the success," McDonnell said. "That consistency is really big."
McDonnell has turned down at least three jobs while he's been at U of L, while Williams and Lemonis have both turned down offers to coach at SEC schools.
"It says so much about our program," McDonnell said. "South Carolina had just won their first national championship when Roger said no. It just says a lot about this place and the people we work for at Louisville.
"We think we can win a national championship here."
McDonnell said after the 2007 season and the trip to the World Series, U of L athletic director Tom Jurich made it a point to keep the staff together.
"I was still in my uniform after we lost to North Carolina and he calls me and wants me to come to his room," McDonnell said. "There was a ton of people in there, he shuts the door and sits me in this other part of the room and the first thing out of his mouth – I mean the very first thing – was, ‘How can we keep the assistants?
"I told him we had to treat them like head coaches to a degree and put them on par with the best programs that make a commitment to baseball. He's done that and it's really been huge for our program to all stay together."
McDonnell calls Mundorf "the rock" that keeps the program rolling, noting "he was here 10 years before we were here and is our rock."
FIRST FULL-SQUAD SCRIMMAGE
The Cardinals had the first full-squad practice of the season last Friday and then held scrimmages at Jim Patterson Stadium on Saturday and Sunday. The school sent out a release with some highlights.
In a 6-1 game on Saturday, right-handed starters Chad Green and Jeff Thompson turned in good outings, while junior outfielder Adam Engel and junior infielder Ty Young both had multi-hit games.
The final was 4-2 on Sunday with sophomore Jared Ruxer looking sharp during his time on the mound, while sophomore outfielder Mike White made the defensive play of the weekend with a catch against the wall.
CARDS RANKED IN ANOTHER POLL
The Cardinals enter the season ranked in all five major college baseball polls after checking in at No. 19 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll that was released earlier this week.
U of L's highest ranking is No. 4 by Baseball America, while the Cardinals check in at No. 15 by Perfect Game, No. 22 by Collegiate Baseball newspaper and at No. 25 in the USA Today coaches' poll.
The Cardinals are the only Big East team ranked in any of the polls.