A year ago Cal State Dominguez Hills baseball Coach Andy Lopez thought his lineup looked like runs in the bank but the pitching was weak on paper. On the field, though, the Toros had the worst team batting average in the conference and only the pitchers, with the conference's second-best earned-run average, kept the Toros in most games.
As he begins his third year this week with an Arizona trip, Lopez feels confident in his pitching--which returns all but one key hurler--and feels his lineup will produce more than it did last year when it was last in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. at .253 and the team lost 16 games by two or fewer runs.
The Toros, despite their ERA of 3.80, finished 25-35-1 and 11-19 in the tough CCAA, which has produced four of the last five NCAA Division II national champs.
Lopez has 16 new faces but the 12 returners provide a solid nucleus. Lopez said, "In my first two years we had one man per position while this year we have room for competition and injuries, and that's a nice feeling."
The Toros get a quick baptism, playing five games this week, including two against Arizona. They play a three-game series starting today at Grand Canyon College. Here are how the Toros shape up by position:
Pitching--Jeff Hines, Jim Pena and Jim Copley return to the starting rotation. Hines had a team-high six complete games as a junior and was 7-6. Pena, a lefty junior, struggled (7-10) but led the team with 22 appearances and 122 innings. Copley, a sophomore, was 3-1 in 19 games. Transfer Alex Salazar will be the fourth starter.
Pierce College transfer Kevin Whalen, also a first baseman, and brothers Richard and Mike Strong will see relief duty along with Daron Connelly and Don Spadoni.
First base--Senior Roger Moore returns and hopes to hold off Whalen. Moore hit .254 as a junior and was second on the team with 20 runs batted in.
Second base--Chabot Junior College transfer Mike King has the inside track. Lopez calls him aggressive in the field and at bat and expects him to be solid offensively.
Shortstop--Returner Craig Grebeck is nursing a broken elbow, with sophomore Mike Perryman moving over from second until he returns in March. Both are among the top defensive Toros.
Third base--Fred Hanker and Richard Strong, both converted outfielders, are battling for the starting job. Hanker, a sophomore, led the Toros with 21 RBIs last year. Strong, the short relief ace, batted .325 in 80 at-bats.
Junior Mike Brocki, who led the team in hits, runs, at-bats and steals while starting 60 games, will see backup action at second and will probably see some action at short and third.
Outfield--Lopez feels his outfield could play with any in the country defensively, led by junior right fielder Dennis McCartney. McCartney was the Toros' most dependable hitter last year until a late slump dropped him to .282. McCartney, however, better not rest on what he did yesterday or senior Andy Fiamengo could sneak in. Fiamengo has played with an elbow injury since last season.
Senior Mike Layana takes over in left field after transferring from Arkansas and sitting out last year. His power should place him in the middle of the lineup.
Juniors Mike Strong, Raymond Grant and Ramiro Saldana are battling for center. Strong probably has the best bat of the three. Grant redshirted last year with a shoulder injury. Saldana is best defensively.
Catching--Scott Murray and Martin Moreno, both newcomers, will split time. Murray, a Chabot transfer, is the better hitter. Moreno, out of Kings River College, handles pitchers better.
Designated hitter--Senior George Cardero, a transfer from Cal Baptist, was a heavy hitter in fall games. He can play outfield and first base.
Utility--Sophomore Nate Lambdin, a shortstop in high school, will probably see action everywhere but the mound.
"Our pitching will hang in there, especially in our park because of the size of it," Lopez said, "but for us to be competitive we will have to be consistent on offense."
At least that's the way it looks on paper.