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Banged-up Beavers open season with high expectations

CORVALLIS — About to begin his 19th season at Oregon State, Pat Casey said he's a coach, not a manager. He's definitely not a cheerleader, and it's too bad he's not a doctor.

Casey cautioned against the lofty expectations of his Beavers, ranked sixth in the country by Baseball America, and that was before injuries left him mulling his lineup card and scrambling to fill his rotation.

Already without superb lefty Jace Fry, most likely lost for the season after Tommy John surgery, Casey has learned that he won't have starter Ben Wetzler (pulled back muscle) or the venerable Taylor Starr (shoulder soreness) to start the season, either.

That bit of bad news came after Ryan Barnes, whom Casey called his best all-around player, suffered a broken hamate bone and is believed to be out for a month.

"As long as you got nine guys and a couple of arms,'' Casey said, "you can go play.''

Casey was prepared to go with a rotation of Wetzler, Matt Boyd, Starr and Dan Child.

Now, the Beavers will send Child to the mound for today's season opener against Utah Valley in Palm Springs, Calif. Casey plans to follow with Boyd on Saturday against Gonzaga ace Marco Gonzales.

Freshman Andrew Moore won't wait long to get his first start. He's set to go Sunday against UC Riverside, and Casey will cobble together some innings Monday as best he can from a group that may include Tyler Painton, Scott Schultz and Tony Bryant.

Not an ideal start to the season for Casey, who will have to do some serious managing in addition to teaching the game and letting the game be the teach for his younger players.

"I get into the game, I don't sit back and manage'' Casey said. "I think managers are for big league players. I coach.''

Even after the injuries, Casey has plenty to work with, as evidenced by the lofty preseason rankings, but he was quick to point out — or remind his players — exactly how much early rankings mean.

"I'm not quite as impressed with them as they are with themselves, it sounds like,'' Casey said. "I like our club. I like the personalities of our team. I'll wait and see how things progress, but at this point, I'm not quite as impressed as Baseball America and the guys are.''

What impresses BA and others — coaches picked the Beavers to finish third in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and UCLA — is the mix of fresh faces and returning talent.

Injuries aside, the Beavers return nearly the entire pitching staff (minus Fry), and among position players, only infielders Ryan Dunn and John Tommasini and catcher Ryan Gorton are gone.

Last year, Oregon State finished 40-20, 18-12 in the Pac-12. It was the second straight 40-win season, and they made the NCAA Regionals for the seventh time in eight years.

But the Beavers were just inconsistent enough to put themselves in position to receive a brutal draw in the postseason — in the Baton Rouge, La., regional with LSU — and make a relatively early exit.

"Any team is good enough to win on a given day,'' pitcher Matt Boyd said. "Well, the team that does that the most, the team that does it when it counts, ends up the team that's the last team standing.''

One run decided 11 of OSU's 30 conference games in 2012. The hope is that with more experience, the Beavers will do better than the 6-5 record in those one-run games and simply have fewer of them.

They will have to replace Fry, who went 5-3 with a 2.45 ERA and held hitters to a .215 average.

"He's a guy we're going to protect,'' Casey said, "because he's got a future.''

Boyd, another lefty, did not sign with the Cincinnati Reds as a 13th-round draft pick and he should hold down a rotation spot, which he has coveted for a couple of years now.

Filling Fry's role as possible freshman phenom this year is Moore, who went 9-1 with a 0.76 ERA as a North Eugene High School senior last year.

"Oh yeah, he's going to be real good,'' Wetzler said of Moore. "He's got great stuff.''

Offensively, the Beavers return the man who posted the best season at the plate in school history. Michael Conforto hit .349 with 13 home runs and a school-record 76 RBI in his freshman season, earning honors too numerous to list.

Conforto should continue to hit third and batter Pac-12 pitching. Shortstop Tyler Smith has the enviable task of hitting ahead of Conforto, and the cleanup spot most likely will go to Danny Hayes.

Center fielder Max Gordon, a former Ashland High standout, should be a fairly regular leadoff hitter, but Casey's lineup is a versatile one that will include Mr. Versatility, Jake Rodriguez, at catcher, second or third base.

Junior college transfer Andy Peterson will play some second, as will Kavin Keyes. Freshman Gabe Clark, who Casey said has the demeanor of Conforto, can play first base and outfield. Nate Esposito will catch when Rodriguez plays the infield.

As the past few days have proved, depth and versatility can come in handy.

"It's not who's not playing,'' Casey said. "It's who is playing.''

Projected lineup:

CF Max Gordon, L/L, Sr.

SS Tyler Smith, R/R, Sr.

LF Michael Conforto, L/R, So.

1B Danny Hayes, L/R, Sr.

3B Jerad Casper, R/R, Jr.

RF Gabe Clark, R/R, Fr.

2B Jake Rodriguez, R/R, Jr.

DH Kavin Keyes, S/R, Jr.

C Nate Esposito, R/R, So.

*Projected rotation:

Dan Child, RHP, Jr.

Matt Boyd, LHP, Sr.

Andrew Moore, RHP, Fr.

*Starters Ben Wetzler (pulled back muscle) and Taylor Starr (shoulder) will miss at least the opening weekend

Key bullpen arms:

Tony Bryant, RHP, Sr.

Scott Schultz, RHP, Jr.

Max Engelbrekt, LHP, Fr.