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What we've learned about Nevada baseball heading into Mountain West opener

Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson has been stellar this season. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Since T.J. Bruce was hired by Nevada in 2016, the Wolf Pack has led the Mountain West in conference wins with 53, including a regular-season league title last season. Nevada begins its title defense Friday when it starts a three-game series at San Diego State, the preseason pick to win the MW. The Wolf Pack has started the season 7-4 (the team ranks 192nd in the RPI). Here is a look at what we've learned about the Nevada baseball team as its opens conference action.

An ace has emerged in Anderson

Spanish Springs High lefty Ryan Anderson came to Nevada with a lot of hype but struggled to find a spot in the starting rotation during his first two seasons. That hasn't been the case in his junior campaign. The 6-foot-6, 205-pounder is 3-0 in three starts, posting a 1.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over 18 innings. He's allowed just 10 hits (zero for extra bases) with 19 strikeouts and six walks. Batters are hitting .164 against Anderson, who has taken the role of Wolf Pack ace (he was slotted as the Friday starter from the outset) and run with it. Anderson's pitching has been the most positive recent development for Nevada in the early portion of the season.

Sharts has been explosive, too

You never know what you're going to get out a freshman, but Owen Sharts has lived up to the hype. The top-100 prospect in last year's MLB draft -- he was drafted by the Texas Rangers but decided to go to college -- has been Robin to Anderson's Batman. Sharts is 2-1 over three starts with a 2.41 ERA and 0.77 WHIP. Batters are hitting just .145 against him (better than even Anderson). In 18.2 innings, Sharts has given up just nine hits and five walks while striking out 10. Like Anderson, Sharts hasn't given up an extra-base hit, so he's inducing weak contact. Freshman Tyler Smith (2.84 ERA in three starts) has been excellent, too. Once freshman All-American Jake Jackson (shoulder) is cleared to pitch, Nevada should have an elite rotation.

Good news in the bullpen

Nevada also has gotten good news in the bullpen, which was a question mark after closer Keone Cabinian (nine saves) graduated. The duo of Shane Gustafson (1.80 ERA, seven games) and Bradley Bonnenfant (2.35 ERA, six games) has been money in the back end of the bullpen. They've combined for 18 strikeouts over 17.2 innings while allowing just four earned runs. Two of those runs came Wednesday against Grand Canyon as Gustafson and Bonnenfant both gave up a run in the final two innings to blow a one-run lead, but that's the only blemish on their record. Nevada has to get Jordan Jackson sorted out -- he has a 47.25 ERA after posting a 4.10 ERA as a freshman last year -- but the Pack's pitching has been stellar, posting a 3.01 ERA.

Josh Zamora, still good

The freshman All-American has been just as good to start his sophomore season, hitting .313 (second on the team) with 15 hits (first), seven runs scored (first), two homers (first) and 10 RBIs (first). Nevada's lineup does not appear to be as deep this season as it was last year, so Zamora is arguably the Wolf Pack's most important position player, and he's upheld his end of the bargain so far. Expect him to be in the thick of the MW player of the year race all conference season.

Weston Hatten's been on fire

The Washington State transfer was a two-way player for Nevada last season and wore down late in the campaign. Hatten hasn't logged any innings pitched this year, and that should help him stay fresher longer. He's been the Wolf Pack's best hitter, posting a team-best .361 average with a .511 on-base mark (he's been hit by six pitches already) and .583 slugging percentage (most of anybody on the team with double-digit at-bats). Hatten is one of just three players to start every game for Nevada, and the Wolf Pack will need his bat to stay consistent over the long haul.

Still tinkering with the lineup

Nevada is averaging only 4.5 runs per game (down from 6.7 last season) and is still trying to sort out its starting lineup. Fifteen players have started at least one game, the same number of players who earned a start over 53 games last year. Nevada hasn't had the same amount of power in this year's lineup, but it is getting on base at roughly the same rate (the Wolf Pack has been hit by 27 pitches in just 11 games. 27!). If Nevada is going to repeat as MW champs, it has to get a little more slug out of its lineup to give the stellar pitching a little help.

Lots of close games

Of Nevada's 11 games, six have been decided by two runs are less. The Wolf Pack is 4-2 in those games, winning the first four before losing the last two. It is 3-1 in one-run ball games. Given its dominant pitching and so-so (to date) hitting, that's going to be the case unless one of those things changes. Nevada scored 16 runs in its season opener, a win over nationally ranked Missouri State (the Bears are 3-7, so they haven't lived up to the hype yet) but has just 34 runs since then (3.4 per game).

Around the Mountain West

The Mountain West has gotten off to a solid start, posting a 39-24 record while sitting at ninth in conference RPI (out of 31 Division I leagues). The MW hasn't sent two teams to an NCAA Regional since 2014, so this could very well still be a one-bid league, but the start has been solid (the MW also ranked ninth in RPI at the end of last season). Air Force (6-3, RPI 46) and UNLV (7-6, RPI 48) are at the top of the computer metrics, with Nevada ranking seventh out of seven MW teams in RPI, in large part because of its schedule (eight of the team's 11 games have been Quad 4 contests). But the schedule will ramp up soon, starting with this week's showdown at SDSU.

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