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Four questions when considering Washington State baseball’s fortunes

UPDATED: Fri., June 5, 2020

Washington State infielder Kyle Manzardo takes a swing against Saint Mary’s last year in Moraga, California. (WSU Athletics / Tod Fierner)
Washington State infielder Kyle Manzardo takes a swing against Saint Mary’s last year in Moraga, California. (WSU Athletics / Tod Fierner)
By Stephan Wiebe Moscow-Pullman Daily News

PULLMAN – Had it been played out in full, the regular season for the Washington State baseball team would’ve ended Saturday against Oregon State at Bailey-Brayton Field.

As we all know, the coronavirus had other plans. The Cougars’ 9-7 campaign ended about 40 games short of a complete season with a 15-3 loss to Gonzaga on March 10, and WSU never had a chance for revenge.

But as we also know, it’s never too early to look ahead.

The Cougars hope their fast start under first-year coach Brian Green will carry over to next year.

As summer approaches and reminds us we should be fully immersed in baseball, here’s a look at four questions for WSU before February 2021:

How good can Manzo be in a full season?

WSU first baseman Kyle Manzardo was awarded for his stellar stats in 2020 on Tuesday when he received one of the highest honors in college sports: All-American status.

A product of Coeur d’Alene’s Lake City High School, “Manzo” was a third-team All-American selection by Collegiate Baseball.

In just 16 games, the sophomore hit .435 with seven doubles, three home runs, 14 RBI, a .500 on-base percentage and a conference-best 27 hits.

Such big production in such a small snapshot is a reason for Coug fans to be excited for the future. But it also begs the question: What can Manzo do in a full season?

Manzardo’s numbers were much improved from his freshman season, when he hit .272 in 52 games but got stronger as the season went on. He was well on his way to doubling most of his hitting statistics this season.

Dating back to 2019, Manzardo was on a 17-game hitting streak when the season ended. His All-American honor was WSU’s first since 2006.

Can the pitchers continue

to improve?

One of WSU’s biggest weaknesses in recent seasons was finding consistency on the mound.

That’s another area that showed promise in 2020.

The emergence of right-hander Zane Mills was one of the biggest surprises of the shortened season. The sophomore from Portland had a 3-0 record and a 1.44 ERA in 25 innings and was poised for a big breakout.

Senior AJ Block – who is yet to announce if he’ll return for another season under the NCAA’s ruling allowing spring seniors another year of eligibility – also was off to his best start as a Cougar with a 2-1 record and 3.25 ERA in 27-plus innings.

The question, particularly if Block doesn’t return, is who will step up behind Mills?

The Cougars used 14 pitchers in just 16 games, so more time is needed for other arms to settle into the rotation.

How will the new facility impact recruiting?

It’s one thing for coaches to talk about a new facility with recruits. It’s another entirely to be able to take them on tours of their future home.

WSU’s new $10-million baseball facility, dubbed Project: BTO (short for “Back to Omaha”) will be completed in October.

The clubhouse will include a locker room, weight room and team meeting room along with new concessions and restrooms along the third-base side of Bailey-Brayton Field.

The facility should bring the Cougars up to par with their Pac-12 brethren and will give players a multiuse space at Bailey-Brayton Field instead of taking long treks to and from Bohler Gym across campus.

Green has done several virtual tours of the facility this spring. One can imagine he’s eager to move on to in-person tours with his future Cougs starting in the fall.

Can Green stay busy for another eight months?

Fear not, this question is of the facetious variety.

Since Green set foot in Pullman for a teary welcome speech in front of hundreds of WSU fans in summer 2019, the hungry coach has lived and breathed Cougar baseball.

Every time he talks to the media, he mentions the “gold mine” he walked into when he accepted the opportunity to be WSU’s coach. In his short time with the Cougs, it’s easy to see how he built New Mexico State – his previous stop – into consistent winners in the Western Athletic Conference.

Green’s teams won no fewer than 34 games in each of his final four seasons with the program.

With no baseball to play for most of this spring, Green set to work making an online class for his current and future players, and he figures his team should be several weeks ahead of schedule when they meet again in the fall.

If he continues to work at this pace, maybe he can follow former WSU football coach Mike Leach’s footsteps and take his teaching chops to campus?

He could call his baseball class “Leadership Lessons in Insurgent Warfare and Baseball Strategies.”

It’d surely be a hit.

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