Bulls' Barbosa aims to set positive tone
TAMPA - For University of South Florida senior left-hander Andrew Barbosa, the time is now. "I'm not thinking about the clock winding down or how many games do I have left, because you have to approach it like it's just another game,'' Barbosa said. "But I want it to be a great game.'' The Bulls (34-20) need Barbosa at his best tonight against Connecticut (29-25-1) in the Big East Conference baseball tournament opener at Clearwater's Bright House Field. USF seeks its first NCAA Regional appearance since 2002 and can clinch an automatic bid by winning the double-elimination tournament. Failing that, the Bulls could have an argument for an at-large spot by getting deep into the weekend.Either way, Barbosa, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound product of Riverview High School, must set a positive tone. "In a tournament like this, how you come out of the chute is so important,'' USF coach Lelo Prado said. "Especially with Barbosa in the first game. He has to answer the bell.'' This season, Barbosa – known as "Bo-Bo'' to teammates – has answered all questions. Coming off Tommy John elbow surgery that limited him to two starts in 2011, Barbosa rebounded with a 7-5 record and 2.37 ERA. He paced the Big East with 103 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings and had just 20 walks. He also led the conference by limiting opponents to a .178 batting average. "The main thing is his elbow is strong with no issues this season,'' said USF pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, formerly a pitching coach with the Rays, Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers. "Guys like this don't grow on trees. A 6-8 lefty with an outstanding changeup, a good curveball and a good downhill plane on his fastball … I've seen guys with a lot less than that pitch in the big leagues. "One of his strengths is his (arm throwing) angle. That's very undervalued. Some people are more concerned with gun reading than actual angles. He has a great angle and the ability to change speeds. I believe this guy can get to some high levels in baseball at a quick pace. I really do.'' Barbosa, who tops out at 90 mph, already had opportunities to advance. Three times, he was drafted by the San Francisco Giants. Three times, he declined to sign a contract. He was a 15th-round pick in 2006 out of high school, but instead went to South Florida Community College in Avon Park. In 2007, the Giants took him in the 48th round. He faced an uncertain future after undergoing shoulder surgery as a JUCO sophomore, then showing up sight unseen to ask for an opportunity at the USF baseball offices. "So, a 6-foot-8 left-handed pitcher drops on your doorstep?'' Prado said. "Yeah, that happens all the time. We gave him a shot.'' Barbosa was brilliant in 2010 – going 8-2 with a 2.40 ERA for the Bulls – and the Giants again plucked him with a 15th-round pick. Barbosa opted for another season at USF, when he had the elbow injury. And, now, here he is with one final shot. "I hope I get drafted,'' said Barbosa, 24. "I'm not worried about how high or the money, none of that. It's already out the window. I'm not going to second-guess any decisions. I just want the chance to play. I know there might be concerns because of my physical history and my age, but give me that chance.'' Barbosa has a chance to make USF's tournament road more manageable. "Getting back from an injury, there are days when you feel great,'' Barbosa said. "There are more days when you wonder what's going to happen. My whole USF experience has far exceeded my expectations. I love the team and love the school. We're shooting for the highest goals. I like being the guy who gets it going.'' His time is now.
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