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Switch Hit!

April 3, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

You don’t win as consistently and for as long as Georgia Tech Baseball head coach Danny Hall without knowing when you have the right pieces to do so.

Hall knew he had all the right talent in place for the 2011 team to do something special. All it needed was some adjusting . A tweak here or there.

Hall made a key adjustment heading into the March 4 games against Rutgers, switching freshman Mott Hyde from shortstop to second base and junior Jacob Esch from second to short.

The Yellow Jackets, who were 5-4, took off. Their series win over Duke, which was clinched on Sunday afternoon in Durham, gave them an 18-2 mark since the move, which included a nation-high 16-game win streak. And, it has made Tech as strong up the middle on the infield as any team in the nation.

It was all a matter of comfort.

“I did it because I wanted to take some pressure off of Mott.” said Hall. “It’s tough for a freshman to come in and play shortstop. Esch made the move easy because I knew he was definitely capable of being a very good shortstop. I just felt like it was the right thing because it gave a more veteran guy who has played a lot more than Mott over at short and put Mott at second to just take pressure off of him.”

Hyde, a highly touted shortstop at Calhoun H.S., admits he has been more relaxed moving to the right side of the diamond.

“I think moving to second base took a whole lot of pressure off me and allowed me to play relaxed,” said the soft-spoken Hyde. “I’ve been going out there and not thinking about anything but having fun and playing baseball.”

Since the move, Hyde has raised his average to .267, from .218.

Tech, meanwhile, had turned 17 double plays heading into Sunday’s game with Duke, with the duo being a part of 11 of them. Tech had five DPs in the previous nine games.

The duo has worked very hard to establish the cohesion in becoming a smooth double-play combo.

“We’ve spent many hours of practice just turning double plays the whole time. Just rep after rep. It’s helped us a lot,” said Hyde. “That’s the biggest thing, letting the pitchers not think about anything besides pitching. They should be comfortable with their infield and wherever the ball’s hit.”

Esch believes the pitchers are showing a comfort level with the pair up the middle.

“I think it’s pitchers getting ground balls. I really think it’s guys going after the hitters,” he said. “A ground ball to me or Mott we try to make it as quick as possible and turn two. Really it’s a testament to the pitching staff, the more double plays that we get.”

A junior who played shortstop at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Chanhassen, MInn., Esch said it took him about a week to get comfortable back at short and also admits he sees a more comfortable Hyde. But he doesn’t necessarily see a correlation between the switch and the team’s jump-start.

“I really think that the streak after (the move) was more of a coincidence,” he said. “Coach Hall talked to us and said he thought it would take a little bit of pressure off Mott with moving to second and put your leadership capabilities to work at short and see what happens. We’ll see how things go. Mott’s very good over there at second base and he’s learning how to play very well. I know what Mott’s going through now, trying to learn a new position. But he’s very good at it. All that really counts, I guess is that everybody seems to be playing where they’re supposed to be.”

Hall credits volunteer assistant coach Rick Rick Rembielak in helping Hyde feel like he is where he belongs

“Coach [Rick] Rembielak has done a great job of helping him transition to second base,” said Hall. “He’s constantly spending time with him on the double-play feeds, the double-play footwork. So I think Coach Rembielak has given him a lot of confidence to play over there.”

Hall feels that the switch with Hyde and Esch actually was just one of a series of moves that put all the pieces in place.

“I kind of look at two other things that kind of came with that,” he said. “I put Jake Davies on the field every day to play first. That gave us three veteran guys on the infield. It gave us Jake at first, [Matt] Skole at third and Jacob Esch at shortstop. Then, I actually went out myself and coached third base. The only reason I did that was that I felt like it would give our offense a better flow to give signs. They didn’t have to try to find me in the dugout. It was easier for the hitter to find me. We did those four things and since we’ve done them we’ve played very well.”

Their 18-2 run speaks for itself.

Hyde’s immense talents should get him back to shortstop down the road, but for now, he’s simply enjoying the ride at second and the team’s ride at first place in the Coastal Division.

“Nothing’s more fun than winning 16 straight,” said Hyde. “We just need to keep winning and doing our thing.”

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