USF Senior Writer Tom Zebold is giving GoUSFBulls.com readers a three-part position preview heading into the Bulls' season opener against Louisville on Saturday, Feb. 16 in Clearwater. This week's installment features a pitching staff that's now being coached by former Rays All-Star Lance Carter.
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - The Bulls want to have a big-league mentality on the mound and they now have a former MLB All-Star leading the way.
Former USF pitching coach Chuck Hernandez's move to the Miami Marlins opened the door for former Tampa Bay Rays reliever Lance Carter, who has been preparing the Bulls' talented arms for Saturday's season opener against No. 4 Louisville in Clearwater.
"It's all been pretty smooth," Carter said. "The guys have done a nice job of getting their work in and I'm looking forward to Saturday."
Carter, who pitching in the majors for six seasons, mostly recently was the pitching coach for the Williamsport Crosscutters, the Phillies' Single-A affiliate, and he's brought an aggressive philosophy to USF.
"Throwing strikes is the key. Throw the ball over the plate," he said. "We've got some guys that can play some defense, especially our outfield. Let the defense play, challenge the hitters, and use your fastball to get ahead in the count, see what happens."
The Bulls work ethic in camp has remained at a high level under Carter, who is making sure his pitchers are in top physical condition heading into the season. Carter's hard work as a player helped him become an All-Star in 2003, when he went 7-5 with 26 saves for Tampa Bay.
"I expect them to do the physical things they need to do, so it takes them through the season," Carter said. "We don't need anybody running out of gas on us when we need them come May, during conference time and what we think is a shot at a regional."
"If we're going to be a good team, Gonzalez and Lovecchio have to go out and do their thing," head coach Lelo Prado said.
Gonzalez, a junior left-hander, got starting experience as a freshman and became one of USF's most valued pitchers out of the bullpen last season when he 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA in 41 innings. The Tampa native also was a part of three shutouts last season for a USF pitching staff that was the main reason why the team went 38-22 and nearly won a Big East tournament title.
"It's going to be a transition for Nick. It's going to be different for him, but it's nothing he can't handle," Carter said. "He's bought into everything that we've been preaching to him."
Lovecchio, a senior right-hander, made his USF debut last season and tied for second in the Big East with eight victories. The Daytona Beach native worked efficiently, walking only 17 batters in 79 innings and Carter is happy to have him back in this year's rotation.
"Joe is a competitor. He's going to go right after hitters," Carter said. "I've been impressed with his work ethic and the way he uses his secondary stuff pretty well."
Gonzalez and Lovecchio will have most of the weekend games handled while Carter continues to evaluate other arms for the midweek and Sunday starter roles. Names to look out for are sophomore right-hander Mike Clarkson, junior left-hander Nolan Thomas and freshman righty Justin Patrick.
"If our pitchers can get the ball to them late in the game, I think we have a pretty good chance with those three guys at the back end of the bullpen," Carter said.
What has stood out to Carter so far is USF's depth on the mound and he said the Bulls also will have plenty of options in middle-relief roles.
"I'm hoping everybody gets innings because it's going to take everybody," he said. "We need to have the three doing their jobs in the back of the bullpen and the other guys getting the ball to them."
Watch Carter's pitching staff work in the Bulls' season opener 4 p.m. Saturday at Bright House Field in Clearwater. The Bulls will face Purdue 7:30 p.m. Saturday back at Bright House Field and take on Indiana 1 p.m. Sunday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin.