In most college baseball programs, middle relief is middle relief and nobody bothers to dress it up.
Wichita State pitching coach Brent Kemnitz doesn't see it that way. He can prove it by pointing out two of his best — Darren Dreifort and Braden Looper — did a lot of their work in that capacity.
"When he talks to me, that's the term he always uses — the Dreifort Role," WSU lefty Brian Flynn said. "For him to use that as a comparison to what my role will be, there's definitely a lot more confidence in that than him just saying 'middle relief.' "
Flynn's role was the biggest question for the pitching staff entering this season. Coach Gene Stephenson preferred him as a starter. Kemnitz wanted to use him as a reliever, someone who could affect several games each week. To start the season, Flynn is in the bullpen, although he is preparing to throw as many innings as a starter.
It's a compromise, of sorts.
"We're open-minded," Kemnitz said. "I think you'll see him start some games. I think you're going to see a lot of situations where he is available out of the pen."
Kemnitz wouldn't put that burden on just anybody. Flynn, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, has the potential to shorten games and dominate a weekend series out of the bullpen, just like Dreifort and Looper did. In 2009, he went 2-5 with a 4.98 ERA, striking out 59 in 56 innings. Flynn was academically ineligible last season, so he tormented hitters in practice. He pitched for the El Dorado Broncos over the summer and Baseball America named him the No. 2 prospect in the Jayhawk League.
In short, WSU sees Flynn as a game-ender with a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning. Bring him in and the other team might wilt. He could throw in relief on the weekend and be available to start or relieve in a midweek game. He looked good late in his freshman season when WSU used him as a reliever in postseason play.
"I've got a pretty loose arm and I can get warm pretty quick," Flynn said. "I like the pressure."
It will be easy to keep Flynn in the bullpen early in the season, when midweek games are scarce. Returners Tim Kelley, Charlie Lowell and Josh Smith will handle weekend starts.
As the season progresses, Flynn may become valuable as a midweek starter against the likes of Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts. If the Shockers want to return to an NCAA regional, winning midweek games is critical. Flynn's flexibility can help.
In 2009, WSU went 1-9 against Big 12 opponents and Oral Roberts. Last season, it went 4-6 against that group. In neither season did the Shockers compile a regional-worthy at-large resume.
"We need to win the non-conference games," Stephenson said. "We've performed rather poorly in non-conference games... the last two years."
Waiting game — WSU may be without freshman lefty Albert Minnis for half the season. He is suspended by the NCAA because his adviser made improper contact with the Atlanta Braves last summer.
WSU may appeal that penalty after it receives the NCAA's final report.
In the meantime, Minnis is practicing and waiting.
"Albert is a strong person," said Bryan Minnis, his father. "He's disappointed, obviously, because he wants nothing more than to play a strong role in WSU's success."
Bryan Minnis said he is pleased with how WSU coaches and administration and officials at the Missouri Valley Conference are helping make the case that Minnis did nothing wrong. WSU officials say the adviser made "innocuous" contact with the Braves through text messages and phone calls over the summer. The Braves did not offer him a contract.
"It's reaffirmed to us that Albert made the right decision," Bryan Minnis said.
Bryan Minnis said the adviser, who remains friendly with the family, does not believe he crossed a line with the correspondence.
"The NCAA sees it differently," Bryan Minnis said.
Advisers are commonly used by draft picks. The Braves chose Minnis in the 33rd round in the June draft. NCAA rules limit how the role an adviser can play, prohibiting him from negotiating or marketing the athlete to professional teams.
"Albert is an 18-year-old kid, and scouts are coming to his games. . . ," Bryan Minnis said. "It's an overwhelming thing. Young kids ought to be able to seek out advice. The NCAA, in my opinion, they're wrong on his issue."
Road hogs — With Eck Stadium covered in snow, WSU's opener on Friday against Niagara looks iffy.
No other MVC team bothered to schedule a home game in February.
* Preseason favorite Illinois State plays its first 15 games on the road, beginning Friday at Belmont.
* Indiana State opens the season at Dallas Baptist. Dallas Baptist, in an evaluation period to become an MVC affiliate member for baseball, also plays a series against Southern Illinois and single games against Missouri State and WSU. Dallas Baptist is expected to play a full MVC schedule in 2012.
* Creighton will play 12 games at TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha's new home for the College World Series. The Bluejays will open the park on April 19 against Nebraska and will play MVC series against Southern Illinois, Bradley and Missouri State in the 24,000-seat stadium.
The MVC Tournament is May 24-28 at TD Ameritrade Park.