TAMPA — USF baseball coach Lelo Prado went into this season with two senior aces to build around in Randy Fontanez and Andrew Barbosa, and as dependable as his Friday and Saturday starters are, the difference between a good team and something more might hinge on how well his pitching fares on Sundays and in midweek games.
Tonight, his Bulls get their first midweek test — one of their tougher ones of the season — as they play Miami as part of the Florida Four doubleheader at Steinbrenner Field. Junior left-hander Matt Reed will start for the Bulls.
"On Tuesday and Wednesday, you've got to have those guys that throw strikes — he's pitched well for us in the past and deserves an opportunity," said Prado, who will see Florida and Florida State play in the event's other game.
Reed, who has a 3-1 mark with seven career starts, is eager to show he belongs as a midweek starter — another lefty, freshman Nick Gonzalez, has pitched well in his first two Sunday starts as USF's No. 3. Reed said the Bulls have a chance to show the depth of their pitching staff, now under the guidance of former Rays pitching coach Chuck Hernandez.
"We know that Randy and Barbosa are going to give us the best chance to win every time they take the mound," Reed said. "People need to realize that we're more than just a two-man (staff) — all the other pitchers, including myself, need to step up and compete, to do our job, throw strikes, get people out and take this team to Omaha."
Pitching, six games into this season, has not been USF's problem. The Bulls are off to a 1-5 start for the second year in a row, but with three of those losses at No. 1 Florida and the other two in extra innings over the weekend. USF is hitting .209 as a team, with 55 strikeouts against just six walks at the plate, but Prado said he expects batters to be rustier than pitchers at the start of the season.
Miami (4-3) has had solid pitching as well, holding opposing hitters to a .188 average.
Reed's biggest win was last year against Stetson, limiting the Hatters to one run on two hits in six innings, but he isn't getting caught up in the challenge of facing the Hurricanes tonight.
"It's an honor to get a start against a program like Miami, but at the end of the day, it's just another team we're facing," Reed said. "I'm always excited to pitch, but there's no extra motivation. I don't think it matters that it's the University of Miami. It's just another college baseball team that's trying to beat me, so it's executing my pitches, do what I can to help us get a win."
Reed's father, Marty, played with Prado at Hillsborough Community College and later was Prado's pitching coach when he won Division II national championships at the University of Tampa in 1992 and 1993.
His father spent six seasons in the Angels' minor-league system, and one of his coaches then was Hernandez, a coincidence that has reinforced for Matt that he made the right call in choosing USF.
"I love Coach Hernandez — it's been a really easy transition, and he's been a blessing for us," Reed said. "We're happy moving forward with him as our pitching coach, trying to be the best staff we can be."