The experiment was good enough to make it a theory.
After dabbling as Winthrop's closer last year, senior Josh McDonald found himself with the reins officially handed to him this year. The Eagles' leading returning starting pitcher will toe the rubber at the end of the game, instead of the beginning.
"I like that position," McDonald said earlier this week. "I like having that security out there. Me and coach talked about how he needed me to close and I wanted to do whatever he needed me to do."
McDonald flirted with the role last year, splitting time with Jonathan Settle and Ryan Mullins. He ended up with two saves, just behind the three picked up by Settle and Mullins.
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But because he was needed as a starter most of the time, McDonald didn't get a lot of chances to show what he could do. Having to limit himself to get through the opponents' lineups at least three times, McDonald went 5-3 with a 5.85 ERA, striking out 44 in 60 innings.
Now he can let it rip.
"He doesn't have to hold anything back," coach Joe Hudak said. "I think he likes that role. He'll be out there every time the game's on the line."
• POWER SURGE?: Checking into practice during the week revealed a few missiles disappearing over the fence, including a scoreboard-clearing shot from right fielder Louis Ullrich. Brought in last season from Longwood by way of Seminole (Fla.) Community College, Ullrich started 44 of 50 games and hit .292 with three homers and 28 RBIs.
Ullrich mentioned last year a small amount of frustration at The Winthrop Ballpark's ball-flying abilities, knocking too many balls that might have a chance down to the warning track. The Eagles only hit 35 homers, led by eight from Tommy Lentz.
It should be more of the same this year, although Ullrich and Billy Froehlich, plus newcomer Eddie Rohan, have tremendous pop.
"(Ullrich's) swing gets pretty long," Hudak said. "He can hit them out when he's not trying."
n GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: One of the biggest questions facing this year's club is who can replace team captain and sparkplug Chris "Goose" Carrara. Winthrop's second baseman for four seasons, Carrara was a mainstay at the top of the lineup last year.
His position's manned by Aaron Bonomi, an Australian native who transferred from Southeastern (Iowa) Community College. Bonomi and center fielder Tyler McBride are auditioning at leadoff hitter.
But the intangibles Carrara brought to the team aren't as easy.
"I don't think anybody can replace him," Hudak said.
• SURPRISE, SURPRISE: As Hudak and his assistants were scouting around during the fall trying to fill the holes in the roster, they gave shots to Winthrop students who might have played in high school or somewhere else. They weren't promised a roster spot, just a chance to show what they could do and maybe become a walk-on.
Casey Bradwell stuck.
A 6-foot-3 righty out of Gaston and Airport High School, Bradwell had enough raw talent to impress Hudak and pitching coach Kyle DiEduardo. Since Bradwell hasn't had the experience of offseason conditioning to keep his arm in shape, Winthrop's staff turned him into a "submariner" -- a sidearm specialist where the wear and tear on the arm isn't severe.
"He threw very well in the intersquads," Hudak said. "If he does the mechanics properly, there's no harm to his arm. He'll get some looks out of the bullpen."
• THE BUG: Despite the Eagles being completely self-sufficient at The Winthrop Ballpark, the flu virus that was floating around Winthrop Coliseum and the men's basketball team found its way to the baseball field. Four players were laid up and out of practice two days ago.
• ALUMNI WEEKEND: The Eagles will host their alumni weekend Feb. 16-17, open to all former Winthrop baseball players and their families. Players who came along before the Ballpark was constructed (or renovated) can view the completed product and fans can watch an alumni game, followed by an intersquad game from this year's team.
The alumni game, featuring alumni who left in odd years vs. alumni who left in even years, is set for 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 17. Hudak said 54 players have already signed up, among them Daniel Carte, Jacob Dempsey, Matt Repec, Heath Rollins, Jeremy Plexico, Carrara, assistant coach Stas Swerdzewski and former pitcher Mitch Walters, now Northwestern High School's baseball coach and the father of freshman pitcher Cam Walters.
One notable who won't be there is all-time wins leader Kevin Slowey, but for good reason. Slowey will be attending spring training with the Minnesota Twins, with a good chance of re-joining the starting rotation after a month in the big time last year.
"We can excuse him," Hudak grinned.