LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When St. Louis has a post-season game the Cardinals absolutely, positively must win, they’d like the baseball to go to Adam Wainwright, their stud. For the Reds, it’s Johnny Cueto.
For Kentucky, it’s A.J. Reed.
Aces rule, right?
Unless the Wildcats are taking direct aim on the University of Louisville.
The Wildcats and Cardinals are not assured of playing each other in the NCAA Regional here this weekend, but the first pitch has already been thrown. Kentucky appears to be saving its ace for U of L, while the Cardinals are sticking with Tournament Baseball 101, using their best pitcher on day one.
The Wildcats will put Reed, their 11-game winner, at first base and start Kyle Cody against Kansas Friday at 2 p.m. in the NCAA regional at Jim Patterson Stadium. The Wildcats are saving Reed for a possible game against the Cardinals on Saturday. That’s the call UK coach Gary Henderson made Tuesday.
“Really?” said U of L first baseman Jeff Gardner.
“I didn’t hear that,” Gardner said.
I say possible game because before a UK-U of L game is assured, the Wildcats must handle Kansas and then the Cardinals have to dispatch Kent State at 6 p.m. Friday.
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell is not playing games with the Cards’ opening game. He’ll start the same guy who has been his best pitcher since February – Kyle Funkhouser, a right-hander who has won a dozen games.
No surprise. McDonnell has always used his number one pitcher as his number one option.
“Somebody asked me if (Kentucky’s decision) affects our decision on what we do,” McDonnell said.
“No disrespect to them, but we have to make a decision, matching up with the lineups which, one, we’re facing on Friday and then we have two possible lineups we could face on Saturday. I would assume they’re doing somewhat the same thing.”
Likely translation: Louisville’s two best hitters – Gardner and Cole Sturgeon – are left-handers. So is UK’s Reed, a strong candidate for national player of the year. Lefty against lefties is another baseball truth, one that could benefit Henderson and UK.
Kansas has lost its last three games as well as four of its last eight. The Jayhawks certainly look beatable. After missing time with an injury, Cody is pitching well for the Wildcats again, earning his fourth victory of the season against powerful Florida in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week.
But Cody has only started five games in 2014, pitching out of the bullpen in his other 12 appearances. He pitched twice against Louisville last season, winning at Patterson Stadium and then allowing eight runs at the game in Lexington.
“I don’t know, I guess it kind of makes sense,” Gardner said. “You’ve got to be careful with the regionals because you never know how it’s going to go.”
If Cody is good enough to beat Kansas, Kentucky will be in a superb position Saturday, using its ace to get to a Sunday championship game.
If the move fails, the Wildcats will have to grind out four wins in the losers’ bracket – and would likely be without Reed, their best pitcher, on Sunday and Monday. McDonnell, meanwhile, would have Funkhouser ready to pitch on two days rest if needed Monday.
“That’s their thought process and their strategy and hopefully it works out for them,” said U of L catcher Shane Crain.
Is gamesmanship at work here?
“I’m not going to get into any of that,” Crain said.
That’s OK, I will. UK and U of L are still not assured of playing each other, but the game within the game has already begun.