When the University of West Georgia baseball team opens up its season with today's 1 p.m. doubleheader and Sunday's single game at 3 p.m. at home against Miles, it will do so slightly short-handed without a pair of expected starters and minus a top man out of the bullpen.
The Wolves start their 2013 campaign without second baseman Andrew Witte, who had his spleen removed after a collision during an intersquad game, pitcher Max Aeschlimann, who has stitches in his pitching arm or catcher Galen Smith, who is experiencing pain in his catching hand.
"I think our big issue right now is injuries. You hate to whine on injuries before the season even starts," Fite said. "You hate to whine, but that's three pretty good players right there from the get-go that we thought we were going to have. That's OK. These guys have been working hard, the guys that are going to be behind them. It will be a good chance to see what they can get done out there."
Those injuries can certainly be overcome, especially since all three are expected back this season. But it is going to put an added onus on the improved UWG pitching staff, led by Chase Riemer after the righty finished off 2012 as the team ace. As a staff, the Wolves had a 5.57 team ERA, with no pitcher having an individual ERA of under 4.00.
That could change this year if Riemer can continue his success, along with the addition of Jonathon Black, the return of Jamie Sexton from injury and Cody Skinner continuing to improve as the penciled-in starters.
The bullpen will be anchored by Alex Allen, who came on toward the end of the season and picked up a pair of saves. Aeschlimann will be the long reliever and situational guy when he comes back from injury, but in the meantime returners Dustin Brantley and Blake McLemore will be relied on with freshman Nolan Huber.
Offensively, the emphasis will be placed on All-Gulf South Conference performer Evan Hester, who returns to his regular left field position. But with Smith sidelined, Hester will possibly be called on behind the plate again this year. Hester was a .335 hitter last year with 14 doubles and 40 RBI.
"Evan, he's been doing well. He's swinging the bat well and he's probably going to have to pick up some slack. We've got another catcher from [Central] in Cam Eison, who's doing a good job, but Evan can catch for us. He's a leadership guy. He's our go-to guy offensively. If we're going to score some runs, he's got to have a good day. We know that, especially with Galen out. We're excited about having him back, he's a good player and has had a good fall and spring," Fite said.
The Wolves also add some speed to replace Stuart Drew at the top of the order in center fielder Shaquille Jackson, bring in T.J. Eifert from Calhoun Community College to fill the third base spot and Harrison Walker, who will fill in at second base in Witte's absence.
Last season was one of the best in recent UWG history, as the Wolves went 23-25 and won their opening game of the GSC Tournament. That's a good start, but this year is the time to build on that success and do even more.
"I think we're better than that. The thing is we've got to learn to win. You look at a lot of those games that year that we should have won or had chances to win. It's a mentality. Winning is a mentality. We've started the process. We're not there, by any means. I think the key thing in getting that number is pitching," Fite said. "It's an OK year, but not something we should be satisfied with. This program should be better than that and we're striving to do that ... we're not there yet, but we're a lot closer than we were four years ago."
Now the Wolves think they have that pitching and are ready to face someone other than themselves today.
"I'm ready to start watching some good baseball. I'm tired of watching all these intersquad games. We're ready. We said that two or three times — we're ready to see someone else on the other side of the field. We're ready to put someone else against us and see what happens," Fite said. "It's an exciting time of year to go and I know these guys are ready to play."