UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gillespie is not fond of surprises. One of his most complimentary phrases when discussing a player is, "You know what you're going to get."
When it comes to the lineup card during the Anteaters' 14-2 start — heading into Wednesday's nonconference road game at UNLV — Gillespie has been thoroughly comfortable with a set of position players that has included very little variance.
Center field and second base have been about the only exceptions to a monotonous starting corps that has flourished thus far for the Anteaters, ranked No. 11 by Collegiate Baseball.
The mound has also been a bright spot for UCI, which came in with lingering questions on the bump after losing All-Americans Danny Bibona, Eric Pettis and Christian Bergman to the professional ranks, as well as top 2010 freshman Evan Brock to a season-ending injury.
Entering Wednesday, UCI had compiled a staff earned-run average of 2.62 with more strikeouts (128) than hits allowed (123) in 144 1/3 innings.
But with sophomore Kyle Hooper faltering slightly (2-0 with a 4.15 ERA in four starts) and junior Crosby Slaught (3-0, 2.75 ERA) missing his turn last weekend with shoulder soreness, Gillespie said he is having a devil of a time establishing a regular starting rotation.
It's a good problem to have, of course, as freshman Andrew Thurman (1-1, 3.54), sophomore Andy Lines (1-0, 1.54) and junior Nick Hoover (1-0, 2.08) have all shown they are worthy of starting assignments to go with Friday starter Matt Summers (2-1, 2.00).
"It really is nice to have so much depth," Gillespie said after Saturday's doubleheader split at Loyola Marymount. "The dilemma now, is what to do with the starters. "I don't know quite what the answer is yet."
Hooper started Wednesday and Lines, who won his first start Saturday against LMU, was scheduled to start Saturday at Gonzaga. Sunday's starter has yet to be determined.
Slaught, who may be ready to go on Sunday, is 11-0 as a starter in his career.
With junior Tommy Reyes returning from injury and performing solidly at second base, the lone lineup question remains center field, where sophomore Scott Gottschling is pushing junior Christian Ramirez for the starting role.
Gottschling is hitting .471 with two runs batted in in 17 at-bats. Ramirez, who Gillespie points out has been making hard contact, is hitting .161 in 31 at-bats with five RBIs.
Gottschling is, Gillespie said, a pleasant surprise.
"We weren't believers," Gillespie said of the Villa Park High product who redshirted in 2009. "I told him about 10 times to go to a junior college. But he has earned his stripes with the bat. He has done well."
Another "surprise" might be the defensive prowess of junior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer. Stepping in for two-year starter Francis Larson, Shaeffer has thrown out 10 of 16 attempting to steal. His quick release and accurate throws often beat runners to second base by a step and a half.
The road swing that began at LMU and continues this week, marks seven straight games away from Anteater Ballpark, where the 'Eaters are 10-0 this season. The trips to Las Vegas and Spokane, Wash. are UCI's only regular-season games outside of California.