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Jan. 18, 2012

PITTSBURGH - Last year proved to be a productive season for the Pittsburgh Panther baseball team as it posted a 33-23 record (16-11 in the Big East) to finish third in the Big East.  Though pitchers Corey Baker and Ray Black were selected in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, head coach Joe Jordano and pitching coach Tom Lipari are hopeful for continued improvement, especially after the Panthers posted their best team earned run average (4.19 ERA) in the last five seasons.  Senior pitcher Matt Iannazzo, who earned Preseason All-Big East First Team honors for the second year in a row, is expected to lead the way for Pittsburgh’s pitching staff in 2012.

Recently, assistant coach Tom Lipari took the time to discuss the team's pitching staff for the upcoming season in a Q&A. Lipari, who is in his second season on the Pitt coaching staff, has high hopes for the Panther pitchers this season.

This is the first of a series of baseball releases leading up to the season opener on Feb. 17, when Pitt competes in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. Check back Friday for a Q&A with Pitt associate head coach Danny Lopaze on the defensive outlook for the team's outfielders.


Q&A with Pitt Assistant Coach Tom Lipari...

SP Corey Baker and RP Ray Black were selected in the 2011 MLB Draft following last season.  What sorts of vacancies are now presented in replacing their presence on the staff?  What arms will be used in your starting rotation for Pitt?

It’s always tough when you lose two talented pitchers such as Baker and Black.  They were much deserving of their opportunity to play professional baseball as I know they will succeed there as well.

As far as the starting rotation, Matt Iannazzo will lead the staff at the front end of a weekend.  We have an idea of who our other starters will be, but jobs are still up for grabs.  Ethan Mildren pitched brilliantly last year as a freshman in the starting role as well as Matt Wotherspoon.  I look for those guys to contribute and log quite a few innings this year.

Senior pitcher Matt Iannazzo was selected to the Preseason 2012 All-Big East First Team for the second year in a row (2011 statistics: 14 G, 8-3, 102.1 innings, 62 SO, 22 BB, 1.11 WHIP, .241 BAA).  As a player who gave your pitching staff five complete games in 2011, what are you most excited about for Iannazzo?  How much of a blessing is he to your bullpen?

Matt Iannazzo epitomizes what you look for out of a pitcher.  The leadership he brings from his experience and attitude helps not only our pitching staff, but the team.  When Matt’s on the mound, you know you’re going to get everything he’s got, which wills him to pitch deep into ball games.  This year we’re feeling pretty good in regards to our bullpen, which will take some pressure off all of our starters.   

Tell us of the importance of the bullpen at the collegiate level. Specifcally regarding the bullpen, junior pitcher Alex Caravella posted the team's lowest batting average against (.233) in addition to a 2.81 ERA in 2011.  What other arms do you have ready to complement Caravella in the later innings of the game (such as Matt Wotherspoon, etc.)?

The bullpen plays a major factor at the collegiate level.  It’s a necessity to have a handful of relievers that can come into a game at any time and put a fire out if need be.  We are fortunate to have a pitcher such as Alex Caravella.  His arm recovers well and that allows him to pitch a couple times over a weekend.  Last year, we relied on Alex heavily as he logged a lot of innings out of the pen.  We feel very comfortable giving the ball to Alex when the chips are down.  This is a credit to his competitiveness, desire and determination to be the guy that closes a game out, whether it’s one, two or three innings.

As I mentioned earlier, we see Wotherspoon more as a starter, but he does have the capability to come into a game and help us there as well.    

Despite having an average statistical showing at the end of the 2011 season, sophomore pitcher Ethan Mildren played very well in the opening weeks of the season (2011 statistics: 13 G, 4-5, 4.31 ERA, 71.0 innings (2nd on the team), 49 SO, 6 BB, 1.48 WHIP, .328 BAA).  Although he has shown a mature command in his repertoire, what more may you be looking for from someone who gave you quite a number of innings a year ago?

Ethan had a streak last year that was one I’ve never seen since I’ve been playing or coaching.  I believe he was near 55 innings before he walked a batter.  That’s truly amazing.  He is mature beyond his years and is as unflappable as it gets.  When he’s behind 3-0 on a batter, he truly believes he’s going to come back and get that hitter out.  You know when Ethan pitches, he’s going to attack and challenge hitters consistently, which is exactly what you want out of any pitcher.  This year Ethan is a lot bigger and stronger which will help him out for the later outings in the spring.  We look for him to have a great year.

Will sophomore Casey Roche see time on the hill in 2012, or will he be subject to the outfield after performing well in 2011 as a freshman, batting .345 in 37 games?

Casey Roche is the classic two-way player that is a hot commodity these days at the collegiate level.  He has the capabilities to do both, and do both very well.  We do look for Casey to contribute on the bump this year.  He’s blessed with a strong arm with a tremendous amount of competitiveness that allows him to play the field and pitch when need be.

Where do you see players such as J.R. Leonardi, Jeff Kelly, Luke Novosel, and David Kaye fitting in the pitching staff this season?  What would you like to see out of such players in 2012?

All of these pitchers you mentioned will contribute this year.  JR Leonardi is back and healthy after he missed last season due to injury.  He’s a bulldog and a guy who wants the ball whenever he can get it.  He will be a great addition to this year’s bullpen, like he was his freshman year.

Jeff Kelly is a pitcher who continues to get better every day.  We see Jeff as a guy who can come into a game and pitch groundballs with the movement he gets on his fastball.

Luke Novosel has made a big jump from last year to this year.  He’s more mature mentally and physically, as he has the ability to start or relieve a game.

We are very excited about David Kaye this year.  Last year he saw limited action due to recovering from Tommy John surgery.  This year he appears to be at full strength where, like Novosel, David has the ability to start or relieve a game.

Redshirt freshman Joe Harvey was a well-decorated pitcher when he played at Kennedy-Kenrick High School in Norristown, PA.  Harvey went 9-0 with a 1.42 ERA and 88 strikeouts his junior season, and led his high school program to two consecutive district championships.  At one point in his career, he was recognized as one of the top 400 high school baseball players in the United States.  Injuries, however, have plagued Harvey's stay in Pittsburgh.  In hoping for a quick recovery from his most recent injury, what would you like to get from Harvey in 2012?

Joe’s a very tough kid.  He fell victim to an unfortunate injury last year with his right knee.  He worked hard over the summer to get it back to full strength.  Joe throws a “heavy ball” with a sharp breaker which makes him very tough on hitters.  We’re confident Joe will be a big part of this year’s pitching staff.

Another redshirt freshman to look at would be Luke Curtis, who in his high school career threw four no-hitters and one perfect game for Philipsburg-Osceola.  Curtis was rated the No. 271 best prospect in 2010.  What kind of exposure do you plan on giving Curtis heading into the 2012 season?  What kind of player is he?

Whenever a young pitcher misses his freshman year due to Tommy John surgery and reaches full recovery which is where Luke stands now, you know you have to be pretty tough.  Not once has Luke complained or shown any signs of negativity due to his tough break.  Physically, Luke is very strong as he continues to look better and better every day.  We look for Luke to contribute to the starting rotation or long relief as a guy who will keep us in any ball game due to his toughness and pitch arsenal.  We are very excited about Luke’s future here at Pitt.

The 2011 freshmen class for pitching withholds two left-handed pitching prospects in Pete Macke and Dave Yakopec.  What do you find most appealing about these guys?

Unfortunately, Pete Macke will be out this year due to a knee injury he suffered in high school.  He’s doing well in his rehab as he will be a major contributor next year.

Dave Yakopec, is another one of our pitchers who has made major strides throughout the year.  Once again, Dave is a kid who can start or relieve.  He brings a strong assortment of pitches with plus movement on all of them.  Being one of the few lefties we have, I am sure he will have the opportunity to help the squad this spring in some capacity.

Tanner Wilt may largely be considered a prized possession with a tremendous upside for potential in this year's freshmen class.  Wilt has been clocked at around 92-94 MPH on his fastball, and has shown maturity and command on the hill.  In having a power arm like Wilt's, what do you believe he can bring to this program?  What would you like to see from him this year, in addition to the remaining years left in this program?

Tanner Wilt will help the pitching staff this year.  His fastball is explosive, as he has the ability to locate both sides of the plate with it.  His off-speed is plus as well, and he is comfortable throwing them any time in the count.  He’s worked really hard this year developing his fundamentals.  Not only is Tanner a great addition to the staff with his physical talents, he’s a great, mature kid with a tremendous amount of up-side.  It will be a joy to coach Tanner for the next 3-4 years.

What kinds of emphasis are you placing on your players regarding their approaches on the hill?  What sorts of improvements are to be made to expand on all that was accomplished a year ago, a season in which Pitt finished 33-23?

All pitching coaches preach being aggressive with a strong mindset on the mound, which I of course agree.  Advice I give to our pitchers is not to try to be someone their not.  A lot of pitchers with a fastball that is considered below average on the radar gun can’t spend their time trying to overthrow and be a 90 mph pitcher.  Each pitcher is different and must pitch to their strengths.  Last season, we did a fine job on the mound, but there is always room for improvement.  This is a very close team that is unique in their own way.  On the mound and at the plate, we will be very competitive.  We’re not going to back down.

Baseball Q&A: Assistant Coach Tom Lipari on Pitching Staff

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