Tuesday, February 28, 2006

KU baseball suffers rash of injuries


Bad things, they say, happen in threes.

Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price isn't about to argue after three KU regulars suffered serious injuries during a three-game series in Nashville, Tenn.

"It was a devastating weekend for us," Price said.

In Saturday's 15-10 victory over Lipscomb, left fielder Matt Baty and center fielder Kyle Murphy collided and were taken to a hospital. Doctors used 40 stitches to close wounds in the nose and mouth of Murphy, a junior-college transfer. Baty, meanwhile, suffered an undisclosed injury.

Despite the stitches, Murphy is expected to be able to play when the Jayhawks open at home this weekend against Western Illinois. Baty, however, will be out for "an extended period of time," Price said.

Second baseman Ryne Price is the other ailing player. The sophomore second baseman - and son of the coach - strained a wrist ligament and isn't expected to return to the lineup soon.

Baty may be the toughest to replace. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior speedster from Maize has been a fixture as the Jayhawks' leadoff hitter for the last three years. He earned first-team All-Big 12 Conference honors as a sophomore and was a second-team selection last spring.

"His leadership qualities can't be replaced," Price said. "He's literally the heart and soul of our team."

Price declined specifics about Baty's injury, citing privacy rules, and Baty issued a statement through the KU sports-information office saying he wanted to talk with his family before discussing the injury.

Sophomore John Allman, who has been the designated hitter, will take over for Baty in left field, with sophomore Brock Simpson and red-shirt freshman Justin Ellrich ticketed for DH duty.

Ryne Price's replacement at second base is Matt Berner, a former Free State High and Lawrence Raiders' standout.

"He stepped in and played well defensively," coach Price said of Berner, a third-year sophomore. "He's not the most gifted guy physically, but he gives you everything he has."

Meanwhile, the injury glut has overshadowed the fact the Jayhawks have won 10 of their 14 games, all on the road.

"We've played one of the toughest schedules in the country," Price said, "and to be 10-4 is unbelievable, especially after beating Vanderbilt (on Sunday) with three non-starters."

Fortunately for Price, the injury bug hasn't struck his pitching staff.

Seniors Kodiak Quick and Ricky Fairchild, a transfer from Tulane, and junior Sean Land have been solid as starters. Quick has a 2-1 record with a 2.10 earned-run average, Land is 3-1 with a 3.28 ERA, and Fairchild also has won three of four decisions with a 5.40 ERA.

Still, closer Don Czyz has been even better. The senior right-hander has saved six games and won another. His ERA is a minuscule 0.56.

"He's been absolutely fabulous," Price said of Czyz. "He has better command of his fastball, and his slider is a plus pitch. He's pitching at a whole different level."

Last year, Czyz posted a 3-4 record with a 3.47 ERA and 10 saves.


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