ATHENS — Georgia opens the 2016 baseball season with a three-game home series against Georgia Southern that starts Friday at Foley Field. The Bulldogs were 26-28 last season and finished last in the SEC East with a 10-19 league record.
Here’s three things to know about this season:
Stricklin looks for traction. Legendary philanthropist and Atlanta real estate tycoon Tom Cousins recently endowed Georgia’s head coaching position in the name of his father, Ike, a loyal Bulldogs’ baseball fan. To continue to be the benefactor of that generosity, Georgia coach Scott Stricklin needs get the program going in the other direction. The former Kent State coach has yet to post a winning season in his first two with the Bulldogs. Georgia has won 47 percent of its games with Stricklin as its skipper and just 35.6 percent in SEC play. He replaced a coach in David Perno who won 53.9 percent of the time, 45.9 percent in the SEC, and led them to six postseasons and three College World Series berths. So the bar is set high. But between weathering the transitional stage and some tough luck with regard to injuries, the Bulldogs believe they’re now set up for success in 2016.
Pitching should be better. Georgia must perform better on the mound in 2016 and should with the return of a healthy Robert Tyler. The right-handed ace was limited to 23.2 innings last year due to an arm injury but rebounded this summer and went 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA on the USA Baseball collegiate national team. Depth is a concern and the Bulldogs will count on senior Heath Holder coming back from Tommy John surgery and junior left-hander Connor Jones to handle the weekend starts. Georgia will be relying on youth and inexperience when it comes to middle-week starters and bullpen contributions. Freshmen right-handers Blakely Brown and Shane Tucker were impressive in fall ball and a trio of young left-handers – sophomore Bo Tucker, freshman Kevin Smith and junior transfer Andrew Gist – could help.
Looking to improve up middle. Traditionally Georgia has been known as one of the best defensive squads in the SEC. That wasn’t the case last year. The Bulldogs logged an astounding 61 errors in the field and 22 passed balls behind the plate. The latter was particular frustrating for Stricklin, a former catcher himself. So Georgia made some moves to shore up things. Freshman Michael Curry won the catching job in the fall and will share those duties with outfielder Skyler Webber. Another freshman, LJ Talley, takes over at second base where offensive catalyst Mike Bell committed 14 errors last season. And Stricklin labeled third baseman Mitchell Webb, who had five miscues a year ago, one of the team’s most improved players. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are hopeful that shortstop Nick King, who broke an ankle in fall practice, will be fully recovered as expected for the start of the season.