By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's baseball team expects to have plenty of pitching depth this spring, with at least seven capable arms available at the disposal of longtime Rams head coach Jeff Smoot.
Of that group, senior right-hander Tyler Doman and junior lefty Mark Smoot figure to handle a large portion of the Rams' pitching this season, and Mark Smoot is eager to serve as one of Strasburg's leaders on the mound this season.
"I expect to bring a big role on the mound, me and Tyler," Mark Smoot said on Wednesday. "Hopefully I can have a good year on the mound, better than last year. It all starts on the mound and ... hopefully we can have a really good year this year and me and Tyler can lead it."
Mark Smoot, who went 7-1 on the mound last season for the Rams, has already begun making an impact for Strasburg again this year.
In his first start of the season last Friday against visiting Page County, Mark Smoot tossed six-plus innings of shutout baseball while allowing three hits and two walks in Strasburg's 6-0 win. He also struck out seven.
For his efforts, Mark Smoot has been named The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week for March 23-29.
"He was able to locate his fastball. I think he had a good breaking ball. His changeup maybe wasn't as good as it typically is, so we tried to rely on his breaking ball a little more as his offspeed pitch," Jeff Smoot said of his son after the win. "[It was] a pretty efficient outing, really."
Mark Smoot was untouchable for most of the game before wearing down in the later innings. He didn't allow a baserunner until he dealt a two-out walk to Page County's Dylan Talghadar in the top of the fourth, and the Panthers didn't record a hit until Joey Lam led off the top of the sixth with an infield single.
Smoot was pulled from the game after allowing a single and a walk to open the seventh inning.
"He pitched really well. We probably should not have run him back out there in the seventh to be honest, but he wanted to, as most pitchers do, and we said well we'll let you give it a shot, but it's going to be a short leash," Jeff Smoot said. "But for six innings he was pretty daggone good."
Mark Smoot also helped his own cause at the plate against Page County, as his safety squeeze bunt in the fourth inning scored Doman to give the Rams a 2-0 lead.
On the mound, Mark Smoot said he was able to mix locations effectively with his fastball and he said this season he is focused on being more aggressive against opposing hitters.
"You can't back down. You've got to try to intimidate the hitter and you can't be intimidated by any hitters, because if you do that then the hitters are going to win," Mark Smoot said. "... you've got to throw strikes and get ahead, try to induce soft contact."
Mark Smoot said his effectiveness on the mound is even further increased by the presence of his twin brother, Ryan, behind the plate, as it affords him the confidence to stretch the strike zone against opposing lineups.
"I feel confident on two strikes that I can bury a breaking ball and he'll block it up," Mark Smoot said. "I think all of our pitchers feel confident that he'll block it up, he'll frame it. He makes you look good."
Strasburg, which fell to William Monroe, 4-0, on the road on Tuesday night, returns to action at home against Warren County on Thursday. Mark Smoot was unsure on Wednesday if he would start on the mound against the Wildcats, but he will be looking to continue his recent success if he is indeed handed the ball.
"Hopefully I can carry it over," he said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD