THIRD OF 3 PARTS
He pitched a couple of innings for the Hawaii Island Movers in the summer.
In the fall, he struck out seven in four shutout innings in an exhibition against a team from China.
Make no mistake, however, the long road back from injury won’t be complete for Connor Little until he takes the mound this weekend as Hawaii opens the 2013 season against No. 6 Oregon.
"It’s a great thought to get back out there and help this team win and hopefully get to a regional," said Little, who is scheduled to start Game 3 on Sunday.
Little’s importance to the team was magnified when ace Jarrett Arakawa opted for shoulder surgery, meaning he will miss the 2013 season.
He is one of only two UH opening-weekend starters with more than two starts at the Division I level and has performed well in key situations. He retired all nine batters he faced in a three-inning start against Arizona State as a freshman. Two years later, he went six shutout innings against Texas and allowed two earned runs over 71⁄3 innings in a win at Loyola Marymount.
If that Little shows up in 2013, it could be a special year.
"It’s time for Connor to pitch with a chip on his shoulder," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "I think Connor is a key to our whole season to pitch to his potential and to pitch to his skill set."
His hot start to the 2011 season was tempered by nerve pain that eventually required surgery in the offseason. Then, over Christmas break, he broke his ankle, forcing him to miss the 2012 season.
"As of right now, my arm is the healthiest it has been," Little said. "Being out for a year and a half, I’ve had a lot of time to get my arm and body back into shape."
Three of UH’s four pitchers in the starting rotation are 6 feet 5 and above.
That’s no slight for freshman left-hander Quintin Torres-Costa, who might be 6-0 on his tippy toes, but who brings an arm as dynamic as anyone’s.
He’s got a fastball he routinely pumps in the low 90s and is well equipped to handle the big-time atmosphere of Les Murakami Stadium.
In the most important game of his high school career, he threw six hitless innings in the state championship game, recording strikeouts on 13 of his 18 outs.
As a senior at Waiakea, he allowed only two earned runs in 472⁄3 innings.
"We were trying to decide whether to close him or start him and when Jarrett went down and with the way (Torres-Costa) was pitching, it just struck me we needed to start the year with him in the rotation," Trapasso said.
UH’s four-man rotation will cut down to three during Big West play.
The bullpen is still very much a mystery as multiple pitchers are still trying to work up to full strength.
Left-hander Lawrence Chew is a key returnee who posted a 2.40 ERA as a freshman last year, walking only six batters and giving up 34 hits in 45 innings.
Junior college transfer Andrew Jones is a lefty who went 10-0 and struck out 80 in 71 innings last year.
Senior Patrick O’Rourke has pitched only five innings in his the past two seasons but will see an increased workload this year.
"We’re definitely wide open on roles," Trapasso said.
Hawaii has three starting pitchers with tools that make them capable of performing like aces, fitting perfectly into the three-game series format in the Big West Conference.
With so many new faces and little experience in the bullpen, roles have yet to be defined, meaning different pitchers will have to get used to different situations on a game-by-game basis.
*Out for the season with injury
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