Brian O'Connor knew coming into the season that his Virginia baseball team had more viable options for playing time than spots on the lineup card.
And through the first two weekends of the season, O'Connor has been juggling some of those lineup spots, in an attempt to find where the puzzle pieces fit best.
"Every so often, you sprinkle in a new player, and give them an opportunity," O'Connor explained Monday. "Because what you don't know down the road, is injuries can happen and things like that. And you want to try to get enough players some experience, so that way if they have to be plugged in there for an extended period of time, they're ready to go."
O'Connor's Cavaliers improved to 6-1 on the season with a three-game sweep of East Carolina last weekend at Davenport Field. O'Connor used a different lineup in each of his team's three wins.
For the season, O'Connor has used four different lineups through UVa's first seven games. Six players -- infielders Mike Papi, Branden Cogswell, and Daniel Pinero; and outfielders Joe McCarthy, Brandon Downes, and Derek Fisher -- have started all seven games.
O'Connor said his philosophy for playing time was based around keeping guys in the lineup who had earned the right to play every day.
"You need to keep them in there. The game of baseball is meant to be played every day," he explained. "So it's hard, the main guys in the lineup, to take them out. Because they need their at-bats so they stay sharp."
The other three positions in the lineup -- catcher, third base, and designated hitter -- are where O'Connor has done some early tinkering.
Nate Irving has started five of seven games behind the plate with Robbie Coman getting a pair of Saturday starts. Kenny Towns started the first six games at third base, before O'Connor gave John LaPrise his first start of the season last Sunday against ECU. And freshman Matt Thaiss has bee the Cavaliers' designated hitter for five games, with Nick Howard -- who doubles as the team's closer -- has started two games at DH.
"You try some different things in the early part of the year, to see maybe what the best combination is," O'Connor explained. "Maybe what the best lineup is. The pitchers in different roles, what are they capable of doing on a consistent basis. And the only way you find out is by putting them in there."
O'Connor says his players have bought into the team's approach, and added that they know when they arrive at UVa that the competition for playing time will be fierce.
"That's what brings the best out of everybody," he said. "And naturally, when you're at a program of this level, the players understand that they have to work hard, and their time might come down the road. It might be later in the year. It might not be until next year. And that's what makes a good college baseball program."
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