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Toreros' 2020 Baseball Season Begins in Arizona

Grady Miller is a top returning starting pitcher for the 2020 USD Torero Baseball team.Adam Kerner is a top returning player for the USD Toreros baseball team in 2020. The team's season begins with a three-game set in Arizona this weekend.

In his 21 seasons as the University of San Diego's baseball coach, Rich Hill has won a lot of ways. He's done it with loaded pitching staffs. He's done it with Kris Bryant launching home runs that disappeared into the nighttime gloom. He's done it with defense, spray hitters, power hitters, pitchers with heat, pitchers who nibble.

With 1,034 wins in his 32-year college coaching career, Hill is the youngest active coach with 1,000 wins. His 702-498-4 record at USD makes Hill the West Coast Conference's all-time wins leader.
 
With the 2020 season set to commence Friday and this weekend at the Angels College Classic in Tempe, Ariz., the strength of this year's team is obvious.
 
In baseball parlance, the Toreros can rake.
 
Said Hill, "I think we have some guys who can really take good at-bats."
 
That they do. In 2019, which produced a 32-21 record, San Diego led the WCC in batting average (.286), on-base percentage (.382) and was second in runs per game (6.5). Out of 297 Division I teams, USD ranked 60th, 56th and 64th, respectively, in those categories.
 
Back from that team are first baseman-catcher Shane McGuire (a .444 on-base percentage), catcher Adam Kerner (team-leading six home runs, plus 33 RBI), infielder Cody Jefferis (a team-leading 13 doubles as a freshman) and, among others, senior Paul Kunst (four home runs last year).
 
Hill gives credit to hitting coaches Brock Ungricht and Ray McIntire for the team's ability to post crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
 
"We just have a hardcore philosophy that the quality of at-bats is what we're after," said Hill. "It's not launch angles, home runs, doubles. It's quality at-bats. Not moving your feet, working the count, taking what a pitcher gives us. It boils down to a couple of things. Stepping into the batter's box with a clear mind and getting our A swing off. It's not about the result. It's about the process and our preparation and our approach."
 
McGuire, who grew up in Kent, Wash., is blessed with baseball bloodlines. His grandfather played at Duke. His brother, Reese, is on the Toronto Blue Jays' 40-man roster after batting .299 last year with five home runs in 97 at-bats.
 
Of Shane McGuire, whose 34 walks led the Toreros last season, Hill says, "He's got power but he stays within himself. He just bleeds the pitcher. He's just got a phenomenal eye."
 
Hill said Kerner, a junior from Agoura Hills, is starting to come into his own as a hitter.
 
"He just punishes mistakes," said the head coach.
 
Jefferis tied for third on the team last year with 33 RBI. After playing primarily second base last season, he'll be moved to shortstop.
 
Junior Tora Otsuka, the son of former Padres reliever Akinori Otsuka, posted a .402 on-base percentage last season, second to McGuire among returning players. "He's just a great bat-handler," Hill said of Otsuka. In fact, the Toreros named a batting drill after Otsuka.

Kunst, a redshirt senior, played center field last year and is considered a super utility player. "He's one of those guys who makes it fun to come to the yard every day," said Hill.
 
Kunst is the kind of player who doesn't always look pretty but thrives in getting the job done. "He'll take a horrible swing one pitch, then hit a double the next," said Hill.
 
Translation: It might not always look like it belongs in the Louvre, but in the end, Kunst's work is a piece of art.
 
A baseball idiom is that momentum is only as good as the next day's pitcher, and it was on the bump where the Toreros struggled last season. The team's 5.62 ERA ranked 221st in the nation, last in the WCC. USD ranked last in the conference in walks and next to last in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched).
 
Senior Grady Miller is expected to be the Friday starter/ace. He was 5-2 last season with one save. Freshmen Jack Hyde and Carter Rustad could fill out the starting rotation. A 23rd-round pick by Milwaukee out of high school in Missouri, Rustad turned down a sizeable bonus to play at USD.
 
Hill said the staff is deep, with a dozen pitchers hitting 90 mph on the radar gun.
 
"Unfortunately," said Hill, "it's not an arms race. It's a pitching race."
 
Said McGuire, "I think we have a better offense than last year. I think our pitching staff is going to be improved. Last year there was more of a focus on attacking the lower part of the zone. This year, it's more about pounding the strike zone, attacking every hitter, throwing strikes, attacking the inside part on hitters' hands more.
 
"I've seen a lot more confidence in the younger guys throwing on the mound. It all comes from leadership in the coaching staff, particularly (pitching coach) Matt Florer."
 
Hill, too, likes the makeup of his pitching staff. "The pitching staff, the last month, has taken a big jump," he said. "The end of the bullpen has a chance to be good. Things have become clearer. I am encouraged, mainly because of the pitching."

— USD Athletics

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(619) 260-4803