By Dalton Ray —
Baseball’s junior Devin Mann has never been a part of a slow start during his time at U of L. In his first 15 games as a freshman, the Cardinals opened the season at 13-2. As a sophomore, they were 15-0 and this year, Louisville started 14-1.
This season, that hot start didn’t roll over into the next chunk of the schedule, though. Louisville struggled, going 5-8 in their next 13 games.
Mann only knows a winning culture. During his time, Louisville is 123-35 with a Super Regional and a College World Series appearance, in addition to a pair of ACC Atlantic titles.
Despite only knowing winning, Mann sees the bright spot in the early-season skid.
“It’s good for us to experience some adversity, learn how to play from behind. It’s just going to make us better down the road,” Mann said.
Louisville’s eight losses in 13 games didn’t come against cupcake opponents.
U of L lost two games to No. 6 Florida State, No. 7 Texas Tech and No. 11 Clemson. They also dropped the first game in a two-game series against No. 9 Kentucky.
The Cardinals have lost three ACC series this season, most of any season since joining the conference.
A portion of the struggle can be pointed to the inexperience of players in the lineup. The typical starting nine has six to seven sophomores who played little to no action last season.
With only two seniors on the roster, the Cards lean on their 10-man junior class.
“It’s good we have the guys like us that have been here for a while and can be counted on,” Mann said. “We know what’s going on, we just try to be leaders for the younger guys and mold them because they’re going to have to grow up quickly.”
Louisville lost nearly their entire junior class to the MLB Draft last season, but that’s not uncommon for the Cardinals at this point.
“My freshman year, we lost all those guys and (last year’s) junior class stepped up. (Our class) just has to do the same thing,” Mann said. “We have to be leaders, coach the younger guys and make sure everyone is up to speed.”
Mann said one of the shining sophomores is Logan Wyatt. It doesn’t come as a surprise to Mann, saying Wyatt simply needed the opportunity. Wyatt currently leads the Cardinals in batting average and RBIs.
The best way to teach the younger players is setting the example on the diamond — and Mann does just that.
The second baseman is batting .283, which is a career-best with at least 100 at-bats. He has 27 RBIs and is on pace to match his 44 from his sophomore season.
The defensive end is where Mann said he feels the most progression.
“I haven’t always been the strongest defensive player and I feel like I made a lot of strides in the offseason to bring me where I am now,” Mann said.
While Mann has improved with the glove, he acknowledges offense is the strength of his game. As of April 7, Mann is a .279 career batter with 117 hits, 88 RBIs and eight home runs in his 132 games.
Mann grew up in Columbus, Indiana, 67 minutes away from Louisville. He said being able to play at a major program so close to home during his career has been great.
“I’ve always wanted to come here. It was one of my dream schools,” Mann said. “It doesn’t get much better than what we have right here.”
Playing in one of the nation’s toughest conferences, Louisville’s schedule is never easy. Coach Dan McDonnell schedules challenging non-conference teams too, meaning the Cardinals compete with the best-of-the-best every year.
Still, Mann’s favorite opponent is right down the road.
“You got to love playing against UK because of that hype atmosphere,” Mann said. “You treat every game like it’s the same, but UK is one that sticks out on the schedule.”
The Cardinals will have a chance to redeem their 8-5 loss to the Wildcats at home on April 17. U of L is 10-5 against the Wildcats in their last 15 battles.
Mann and the Cards have a chance to right the ship on the season with No. 8 North Carolina State in town. Louisville opened the series with an 8-2 win, pushing U of L to 20-9.
You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477.
Photo by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal