Howard continuing UVa tradition of great two-way players - The Daily Progress: Sports

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Howard continuing UVa tradition of great two-way players

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Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 8:30 pm

Kyle Crockett froze Tarran Senay with a 90 mph fastball and Virginia ended its Saturday doubleheader sweep of N.C. State at 8:38 p.m. Around 40 minutes later, word came out that game three of the series was being moved from 7 p.m., Monday, to 11 a.m., Sunday.

In other words, UVa’s Nick Howard was going from 18 innings as the third baseman to the starting pitcher in less than 15 hours.

“It was an obstacle that our whole team had to deal with, not just me,” Howard said Sunday when it was all over.

He pushed the spotlight elsewhere, but, really, Howard had the most daunting task of the Cavaliers’ weekend set with the nationally ranked Wolfpack.

In fact, he’s played this demanding role all season.

At 5 p.m., tonight, Howard will be back at third when the No. 8 Wahoos (22-2) host Towson (13-9). Come Sunday, he’ll be on the Davenport Field mound when Virginia closes out its Atlantic Coast Conference series with Miami.

Howard is batting .366 with a team-best eight doubles. He’s also 3-1 with a team-best 1.65 ERA.

Joe Koshansky, Sean Doolittle, Danny Hultzen, Nick Howard.

The sophomore is the next in line of UVa’s great two-way players.

“The one common theme that all those players have is they’re very, very athletic,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “It’s a very challenging thing to do at this level of baseball — to not only play a position, but pitch for you also.”

O’Connor was around for the end of Koshansky’s career. Before the Fairfax native was drafted in the sixth round by the Colorado Rockies, Koshansky spent 2004 hitting .302 as a first baseman and going 8-3 with a 2.98 ERA as a weekend starter. He earned first-team All-American honors as a utility player.

Doolittle, now with the Oakland Athletics, was the 2006 ACC Player of the Year. Another first baseman/pitcher, he left Charlottesville as the program’s all-time leader in RBI and wins.

In 2011, Hultzen, selected second overall by the Seattle Mariners, won the John Olerud Two-Way Player Award for his mound (12-3, 1.37 ERA) and first baseman/designated hitter skills (.309, one home run, 35 RBI).

Howard isn’t blind to the history.

“They’ve put out a lot of great two-way players here,” Howard said. “I think that’s helped me. They’ve kind of groomed me into the same kind of situation.”

As a freshman, Howard only got a brief introduction to it, seeing pitching time out of the bullpen (19 appearances) as well as 11 starts in the lineup (10 at DH, one at third base).

Coming into 2013, third baseman Stephen Bruno had departed for the Chicago Cubs and the weekend rotation had its holes.

O’Connor felt it was time to boost Howard’s workload.

“I knew before the season that Nick Howard was going to be one of our really key players,” O’Connor said. “ ... I think he has ability to drive in some runs, I think he plays a good third base and he’s obviously showing what he does on the mound.”

On Sunday, that was 4 1/3 innings of six-hit, two-run ball to along with a 3-for-4, one RBI performance at the plate.

It was the second time this season in which O’Connor didn’t use a DH to move Howard, a righty, out of the lineup. Like facing Maryland’s Alex Robinson on March 10, N.C. State’s Brad Stone was a left-hander.

“That what’s was driving it,” O’Connor said of the Howard vs. lefty matchup.

Howard said playing both ways is fun because it keeps him in the game.

It also lessens his practice schedule.

“I think the key in it is the management of them,” O’Connor said. “When do you have them throw? There’s a lot of days when we don’t have Nick Howard throw with the position players, just on a practice day. It might be a day off for him from a throwing standpoint.

“It’s really important how you manage those players so they can be effective as possible.”

O’Connor pushed the right buttons for Hultzen, who took All-American honors a program-best three times and was a major part of two College World Series teams.

“I would think it’s all positive because you get to go out there and just play baseball every day,” Hultzen said. “That’s the way I looked at it. I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better. Going into college, I really didn’t really know if I was going to hit or not. I was just kind of preparing myself for that part of my baseball career to be over.

“When I started hitting and did well enough to keep playing there, that was awesome. I got the opportunity to play the game every day. I’m sure Nick Howard feels the same way. He gets to play every day.

“Being on the other end of it now, I just get to pitch, which is awesome, but I do miss hitting all the time.”

Howard still has that luxury. And like Koshansky, Doolittle and Hultzen before him, he’s taking advantage of it.

“Over the 10 years that our coaching staff has been here, we’ve shown that a two-way player can be very, very valuable in this program,” O’Connor said. “Nick’s certainly continuing to carry that ball for us.”

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