Aztecs look to continue stellar pitching in Las Vegas

by Ryan Posner, Staff Writer

San Diego State baseball head coach Mark Martinez seems to push all the right buttons.

It’s a big reason the Aztecs (19-6, 7-2 Mountain West) are off to a hot start and are receiving votes in the National College Baseball Writers Association top-30 poll.

Last week against Air Force Academy he elected to start junior right-hander Mark Seyler on Saturday – a day the team has struggled all season – and then gave the Sunday start to sophomore left-hander Marcus Reyes.

The moves paid off as the Aztecs swept the series and now Martinez will use that same rotation for at least this weekend’s series against University of Nevada, Las Vegas (12-11, 2-7 MW)

Reyes was named the MW Baseball pitcher of the week on Monday after he picked up two of the team’s four wins last week.

“It’s a permanent move for at least one week,” Martinez said. “Saturday has been a mystery for us this season. (Reyes) is going to throw a lot of strikes and keep us in the ballgame.”

When the Aztecs step onto the field at UNLV this weekend it will be the first time since they won the MW Tournament there last May.

Martinez wants to replicate that success but knows the tough task that comes with playing a conference road game.

“Every team in the Mountain West has a definitive home-field advantage. There’s no easy place to play,” he said. “Hopefully we can leave (UNLV) with the same feeling that we did last time.”

A key cog in helping the Aztecs achieving that success will be senior outfielder/relief pitcher Steven Pallares, who is on an absolute tear this season.

He currently leads the MW in batting average (.410), hits (43), doubles (11) and runs (31).

Last week he tied the school record with eight RBIs in the team’s 13-1 victory against Air Force, a game in which he launched a grand slam.

“He’s the straw that stirs the drink,” Martinez said. “He’s been that calming presence for us all season. He gets things started at the top of our order and just makes the people behind him even better.”

Those people behind him aren’t doing too shabby, either.

As a team the Aztecs lead the MW in hitting at .308.

UNLV is a distant fourth at .272.

“Our lineup as a whole has done a phenomenal job this season,” Martinez said. “Our three, four, five guys have been hot of late and it’s nice having a guy like (senior first baseman) Ryan Muno back in the lineup.”

Muno, who dealt with concussion problems last season, was struck in the head with a ball during practice a few weeks ago and was forced to miss a little time.

Martinez noted, though, that he is back and 100-percent healthy.

The kick-starter for the UNLV lineup is senior outfielder Dylan Ellis.

Ellis leads the Rebels with a .408 average.

As for a power threat for the Rebels, look no further than senior catcher Erik VanMeetren, who leads the team with three homers.

Don’t expect too much power this weekend from them, though.

Friday’s starter, junior right-hander Bubba Derby, and Saturday’s starter, Seyler, have allowed just two home runs in 12 combined starts this season.

“(Derby and Seyler) have been dominant for us this year,” Martinez said. “They provide us a certain comfort level.”

While the Aztecs will not be playing for a conference tournament when they head up to UNLV this year, but you can rest assured Martinez will be treating it with a playoff-like intensity.

“They’re a very talented team, we’re going to have to grind out some victories up there,” he said. “Mountain West games are always intense, it’s one of the best conferences in the country.”