Being eased into the baseball season with short outings and low pitch counts doesn't just benefit the Wichita State starting pitchers.
It also allows the Shockers' coaches to audition several pitchers for spots in the bullpen.
Relief pitching was a collective problem for WSU last season, as injuries and ineffectiveness made virtually no WSU lead safe.
With the return of Brian Flynn from academic ineligibility, the return to health of Grant Muncrief and the additions of freshmen expected to make an impact, the Shockers like their bullpen depth and don't expect a repeat of 2010.
"A lot of years you just need to kind of get a feel for whoever fits where," pitching coach Brent Kemnitz said. "We've always taken as much time and effort trying to establish a bullpen as anybody."
Flynn, a starter in 2009, could return to the rotation. Kemnitz's preferred role for him could allow Flynn to earn the innings of a starter.
Kemnitz wants Flynn to be a hybrid of a long reliever and a closer, a role perfected by Darren Dreifort in the early 1990s. If a starter struggles, Flynn can enter in the second or third inning and pitch deep into the game. Or Flynn could enter in the sixth or seventh to close out a win.
"He has even more flexibility than a true closer," Kemnitz said. "Ideally, if we do leave him in the bullpen... we can bring him in first, whenever the (starter) gets in trouble, and let him settle in. If he comes in in the middle of the game, he may be able to finish it up."
If Flynn pitches multiple innings in a game, the Shockers could take a more traditional approach with the bullpen on his rest days. There are several candidates for the ninth inning, but only Muncrief has significant experience there, though it came two years ago.
Muncrief had elbow surgery in 2009 and labored through last season as he was slow to recover. His reached the low 90s on the radar gun during an outing against Niagara last weekend.
"Coming into this year, I felt like I was on the same track as all the other guys," Muncrief said. "I got to have a place in fall ball, which I hadn't gotten to do in a while, and when we started doing our throwing progressions and our offseason programs, I was right on track with everybody else. For the first time, I started feeling like I was part of the group again."
The Shockers haven't had a ninth-inning save situation during their 4-0 start, but freshman Cale Elam has finished two games, including the win at Oral Roberts on Tuesday. WSU had a six-run lead when Elam entered with the bases loaded in the eighth, but pitching on the road against a quality opponent was an indication of the confidence WSU has in Elam.
"He comes in, has great presence on the mound," Kemnitz said. "He's popping strikes. Gets us out of that inning and puts up a zero in the ninth. I think he's a guy that everybody believes in."
Justin Kemp, Chance Sossamon, T.J. McGreevy and Tobin Mateychick are other bullpen options, though the latter two are possibilities for the midweek starter spots. Freshmen Zach Beringer and Foster Vielock have impressed in bullpen sessions, putting some of the veterans on notice.
"We can't lag around and fill roles in May," Kemnitz said. "We need guys who show that kind of consistency for three months, four months. If that happens, then we're pitching the way Wichita State is supposed to pitch."
Kelley a candidate — Senior pitcher Tim Kelley is one of 30 candidates for the Lowe's Senior Class Award. The award is given to a senior who displays notable achievements in four areas: classroom, character, wommunity and competition.