LOUISVILLE — Kentucky Coach Gary Henderson will start sophomore Kyle Cody — not ace A.J. Reed — when the Cats play Kansas on Friday in the NCAA Tournament regional tournament in Louisville.
That means Reed can pitch in a potential second-round game against Louisville.
When asked about the decision, Henderson said that matchups, pure and simple, led to the decision to pitch Cody on Friday and Reed on Saturday.
Kansas may have only one left-handed hitter in its lineup, and probably no more than two, Henderson said. So Cody, a 6-foot-7 right-hander who was limited to 371⁄3 innings this season because of injury, will have an advantage. Reed, a lefty who led the Southeastern Conference with 11 victories and was named National Player of the Year by Collegiate Baseball Thursday, would face a U of L lineup that has at least five left-handed hitters.
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"It was a no-brainer," Henderson said of the decision. "It wasn't any more complicated than that. ... Straight left-left, right-right matchup stuff."
First things first. Kentucky and Louisville have to both win — or lose — on Friday to play each other on Saturday. Kentucky plays Kansas in the opening-round game at 2 p.m. Louisville, the No. 1 seed in the regional, plays Kent State at about 6 p.m.
A Kentucky-Louisville second-round game is highly anticipated. Friday's two winners play at 5 p.m. Saturday, while Friday's two losers play at noon.
Henderson reminded media that a potential Kentucky-Purdue game in the second round generated "a tremendous amount of talk" two years ago. But it failed to materialize when Purdue lost its first-round game.
Henderson acknowledged that baseball affords coaches only limited control in realizing future matchups. He said that during games he can try to calm his players, or decide to pinch-hit or, say, pitch out when he anticipates a steal attempt. With the additional urgency that comes in a double-elimination regional, Henderson said he might change pitchers "two pitches early rather than two pitches late."
But, ultimately, the coach has a limited ability to ensure Reed would pitch against Louisville.
"Once the game gets going, it's a players' game," Henderson said. "You can only control so much. ... Sit back and watch."
Henderson playfully said he envies the greater control coaches in football and soccer enjoy. "Take a guy out and put him back in," he said. "And Rachel (Lawson, UK softball coach). She just pitches the same (pitcher). ...
"I think I'd be a whole lot better coach if I could pitch A.J. every game."
Louisville's ace, Kyle Funkhouser, will pitch Friday against Kent State. Funkhouser, who has won five straight, throws a fastball that approaches 95 mph, U of L Coach Dan McDonnell said.
Louisville's No. 2 starter, Jared Ruxer, will not pitch in the regional because of an arm injury. McDonnell said he had not decided who would pitch on Saturday. The likely options are sophomore Anthony Kidston, who has a career record of 12-0, or freshman Josh Rogers.
"I said all along, we love our pitching depth," McDonnell said.
The likely choice is Kidston. Rogers started twice against Kentucky in the regular season. In those games, he totaled 71⁄3 innings, giving up seven hits and eight runs (six earned).
Being at home and the top seed, Louisville (45-15) carries the weight of expectation.
"We're not afraid of high expectations ...," left fielder Jeff Gardner said in a formal news conference. "All we talk about is Omaha (the College World Series is played in Omaha, Neb.). There's a reason we're in a room called the Omaha Room."
The Omaha Room at U of L's Jim Patterson Stadium is behind the first base dugout.
All coaches stressed the importance of winning the first game of the regional to avoid the extra games mandated by advancement through the losers' bracket. When asked to describe the importance of winning Friday, Henderson quipped, "I'm not sure I have a word other than really important."
Kentucky will face a Kansas team that won its last nine regular-season Big 12 games.
Kansas Coach Ritch Price said he took no offense to Kentucky saving its ace pitcher for Saturday. Nor did he sound sensitive to the fact that all the Kentucky-Louisville talk relegated Kansas (and Kent State) to afterthought status.
"I think all the talk in our town is about the basketball program," Price said. "So you're talking to a guy who gets overlooked every day."