By Gary Fauber Assistant Sports Editor
Tim Epling is about to start his sixth season as manager of the West Virginia Miners. Is it an exciting time? Fun? Maybe he’s a little nervous.
How about all of the above?
“It’s all three put together,” Epling said while giving consideration to various batting orders in preparation for tonight’s season opener at Chillicothe.
“You’re always nervous for the unexpected. You’re trying to learn all the players. There’s only so much you can do with a few practices. We’re going to try to get everybody some playing time over the next four or five days and try to figure things out between a few practice sessions and a few games to get things set in stone.”
Players started trickling in last Tuesday, but a bulk of the roster reported to Beckley over the weekend. That increased the current active roster to 23, the most the Miners have ever had at the start of a season.
“That’s good, and this is the youngest team we have ever had,” Epling said. “We are usually stocked with juniors, but we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores. Some of these guys have played at a high level, but the speed of the game is going to change for them. If they can adapt to the speed and get the ball out of their hands quicker on defense, that will be a good indicator of how the season will go.”
As usual, Epling is also giving careful consideration to his pitching staff, which interestingly is comprised completely of right-handers. He had not decided on a starter as of Tuesday night, but has been impressed with Connor Faix of Case Western Reserve and University of Charleston’s Anthony Brunetti.
“We’re still getting the pitching staff together,” Epling said. “The back end is pretty much set, as far as middle relief and closing because they can go a short outing and bounce back. We’re trying to figure out who pitched most recently (in college) and don’t have much dead time.”
The Miners missed out on the playoffs last year for the first time in the organization’s first five years of existence. Making that a mere blip would be nice, but right now Epling’s focus is on getting a feel for a team that is completely new.
“This is a new team and they have never experienced that here,” Epling said. “This is a different year with a different mindset.
“My goal is that I hope our pitchers throw strikes and we get our timing down at the plate. Then everything else should fall into place.”
After tonight, the Miners come back to Beckley Thursday for the home opener against the Jamestown Jammers. That game will start at 7:05 p.m. and will be sponsored by Lowe’s.
Garry Griffith will be on the call tonight at WJLS-AM 560 and online at WJLS.com.
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