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Not too many people or institutions in today’s sports world stand up to television and the money it throws around to dictate terms, but that’s what Tony Gwynn is doing.
San Diego State’s head baseball coach and Hall-of-Famer is holding back announcing the Aztecs’ starting pitcher for Friday’s NCAA tournament opener against Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion Virginia at UC Irvine’s Cicerone Field.
“Everybody wants to know,” Gwynn said. “TV thinks they should know and opposing teams think they should know. But we’re doing what we think is best for San Diego State. We’re going up there to win — not just make an appearance (in the NCAA tournament) for the first time in 18 years. Whatever puts San Diego State in the best position, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Gwynn and pitching coach Rusty Filter are deciding if they should start All-American Stephen Strasburg (13-0) or No. 2 starter Tyler Lavigne (7-2). They’ve started Strasburg in series openers all year, but Lavigne has shown an ability to come back on short rest and pitch two games. That’s valuable in a double elimination sub-regional that goes Friday through Sunday with an added game Monday if necessary.
No one — not ninth-ranked Virginia, not No. 1-ranked host UC Irvine or defending NCAA champion Fresno State wants to see Strasburg’s 100-mph fastball in a regional matchup. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander has a 1.24 ERA and a ridiculous ratio of 180 strikeouts to 19 walks in 102 innings.
But if, after studying matchups, the Aztecs think they can get a win out of Lavigne the first day, they not only throw doubts in Virginia’s preparations, they’re looking at having their ace in place to help advance to a Sunday game with a 2-0 record. The team SDSU would face Sunday in the third round would be playing its second game of the day after an elimination round earlier.
While Strasburg was the Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year, Lavigne, a right-handed junior college transfer, was a second-team All-MWC choice and sophomore right-handed reliever Addison Reed a first-team pick.
“(Lavigne) has thrown the ball great,” Gwynn said. “Our pitchers have done a super job all year. Stephen gets all the attention, but any other year Tyler and Addison Reed would be the story. “
SDSU’s other starting pitching options later in the tournament are senior right-hander Jon Berger (4-5, 5.38 ERA) and freshman right-hander Ryan O’Sullivan (4-4, 6.79 ERA).
O’Sullivan, a Valhalla High alum, was a 10th-round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants as a pitcher. But one of the reasons he turned down the Giants — in addition to wanting more money — was attending SDSU allowed him to pitch and be an everyday shortstop.
Strasburg is a power pitcher projected as the first pick of the draft, and Gwynn has been praised throughout baseball for not overworking him. He’s been limited to about 115 pitches per game and has thrown only once a week.
“I have no preference,” Strasburg said of a start Friday or in Saturday’s second game. “They (the coaches) know I’m willing to do anything and everything it takes to get us to the next level.”