It's time, and Max Garner is ready.
The right-hander will be on the mound for the Hoppers tonight when they open the 2014 season against the Hickory Crawdads at 7 o'clock in NewBridge Bank Park. He had never seen the park until Monday, when the team arrived in Greensboro and worked out.
"It's beautiful," Garner said. "I've heard so much about the fans and the atmosphere and I'm excited (for the opening game)."
Adding to the excitement will be the presence of Garner's parents, who have traveled from central Texas to watch him pitch. He grew up in Houston, graduated from high school in Austin and pitched four years at Baylor in Waco.
Garner said he throws a fastball, cut fastball, curve and changeup. He likes to work off his cutter and sinking fastball and use his big curve as his out pitch. He patterns himself after Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Pitching coach Jeremy Powell said the work Garner, a 13th-round draft pick last year, did in spring training earned him the role of opening-day starter.
"He's a little older (and) he's got some polish to him," Powell said. "He's an outstanding guy who can be a leader for this staff. He possesses a great fastball downhill and he throws a lot of strikes."
Garner had a deceiving record at Batavia last season. He started 14 games and put up a 1.62 ERA but had a 0-2 record to show for it, so he's still seeking his first professional win.
He will be followed in the rotation on Friday by Jarlin Garcia (3-2, 3.10), on Saturday by Ryan Newell (5-4, 2.09), on Sunday by Domingo German (3-0,1.38) and on Monday by Sean Townsley (0-2, 1.44). Garcia and Townsley are left-handers. It's a staff that could be a team strength.
"They are guys who can throw three or four pitches for strikes," Powell said, "and they are durable kids with really good arms. They had outstanding seasons last year."
Townsley pitched at High Point University, where he was the closer last year. He was used in relief at Batavia, but the Miami Marlins want to try him as a starter.
"He threw the ball really well last year when he came in," Powell said. "He's a big lefty (6-7, 240 pounds) and he throws the ball downhill and over the plate. We've built him up; he seems durable. We want to get him some extended innings and get more of a look."
Townsley will likely share the fifth spot in a "piggyback" with Matt Milroy, who returns for his second year in Greensboro. In this arrangement, one pitcher starts a game and the other is the first reliever. They swap roles the next start.
Although he enjoyed his role as a closer, Townsley welcomes the chance to start, which he has done in the past.
"The biggest obstacle was just the mentality of going into the pen," he said. "As a starter you have a routine, you're able to plan out mentally what you need to do for a game. When you're in the pen you could be six pitches away from going in the game. Once I did adjust, I absolutely loved it.
"I still have that (starting) routine fresh in the back of my mind, so I'll just (fall) back on that."
Milroy (0-2, 5.49) is one of three pitchers who were with the Hoppers last year. The others are Sean Donatello (2-1, 1.11) and Blake Logan (2-6, 5.01, 11 saves). Also in the bullpen are right-handers Joel Effertz (2-5, 5.21 with Batavia), Casey McCarthy (2-5, 4.11) and C.J. Robinson (1-1, 1.61) and lefties Miguel Del Pozo (2-1, 4.81) and James Wooster (2-1, 11.50).
Wooster played with the Hoppers as an outfielder in 2011 and 2012 and switched to pitching last season.
As usual early in the season, pitch counts will be closely watched. Powell will use that as an indicator rather than just the number of innings. Starters aren't likely to exceed five innings unless their pitch count is low and they can begin a sixth. There will be plenty of innings to go around for the 13-man staff.
"At this level it's about getting guys inning and trying to keep guys as fresh as we can," Powell said. "We're about developing these players and giving them as many looks and as many experiences as we can in games."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.