Second baseman position unfilled consider redshirt

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Erik Hall

The Illinois baseball team starts its 2005 season Friday. The Illini have a good idea of who will start at almost every position during this weekend’s N.I.A. Shootout in Rock Hill, S.C.

One position with some uncertainty entering the season is second base.

Sophomore Ryan Hastings, the 2004 starting second baseman, has a mysterious right wrist injury that has clouded his status for 2005.

“It’s a wrist (injury) that only hurts when he swings a bat,” said Illinois head baseball coach Itch Jones. “It doesn’t hurt when he throws, but it hurts when he swings a bat. It’s one of those things that if they have to go in and operate that he’s done for the year.”

Hastings started at second base in 48 of Illinois’ 55 games during the 2004 season. Jones expected, as of late last week, that he would use Hastings during opening weekend.

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“He’ll probably be the type of guy that we start playing early in the season to see if his hand can take it or not,” Jones said. “If his hand can’t take it, then (he will) go ahead and get it operated on now to give him plenty of time to recover.”

Under this situation, the team would apply for a medical redshirt at the conclusion of the 2005 season. Jones said Hastings and his parents are considering if the sophomore should redshirt and not play at all in 2005.

“What to do is something that he and his father are talking about right now along with our trainer (Jim) Turk,” Jones said.

Hastings preferred not to comment on his wrist since he is unsure exactly what is causing him pain.

Should Hastings not be available this season, freshman infielder Joe Bonadonna will replace him at second base.

Seven other spots

If Hastings plays this season, then seven of Illinois’ eight starters will be players that started frequently for the Illini in 2004.

Only senior shortstop Toby Gardenhire will be playing for the first time in Illinois’ lineup. Gardenhire transferred to Illinois from Southwest Missouri State.

Senior third baseman Chad Frk and junior catcher Chris Robinson both earned All-Big Ten honors last season. Both players are back at the same positions this season.

Senior left fielder Drew Davidson is expected to be an Illinois starter for a fourth consecutive season. Davidson will try to reclaim the success that earned him recognition as a Freshman All-American in 2002.

“Anytime you got a guy who’s been through it once or twice or even three times, it’s great,” Robinson said. “It’s always a bonus to have guys with experience because you can’t substitute anything for experience.”

Junior Trevor Huisinga started 50 games in the outfield for Illinois in 2004. Huisinga may shift from center field to right field in 2005. Junior Ryan Rogowski started 40 games last season, but primarily served as Illinois’ designated hitter. This year Rogowski will play significant innings in the outfield.

“We’ll probably talk to those two guys and see which is the most comfortable out there (in center field),” Jones said. “You want the guy in center field that can cover the most ground. Rogowski can probably cover the most ground, so that’s probably what we’ll do.”

Senior Dusty Bensko is expected to start at first base for Illinois when he is not pitching.

The Pitchers’ spots

The roles for most of Illinois’ pitchers have yet to be determined.

“We’ve had so many kids throw so well,” said junior right-hander Andy Sigerich. “It’s just a lot of unexpected people – a lot of freshmen – have stepped up really big. It’s very competitive right now for roles.”

Jones said that Sigerich is scheduled to start Friday’s game against Kent State.

Senior right-hander Jimmy Conroy was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in June. The A’s chose Conroy in the 25th round, but Conroy passed up Major League Baseball and returned to Illinois.

Conroy is scheduled to start Saturday’s game against No. 21 Winthrop. Conroy earned a 6-3 win against the Eagles in 2004.

As of late last week, Illinois coaches had not chosen the starter for Sunday’s game against Wagner.

“I think we are way ahead of last season,” Jones said. “I think we have a much better attitude than we did a year ago. It seems like we’ve got some guys that helped bring this team together. Time will tell when we go out and start the season.”