Orloski earns opening-day start on the mound as UTSA rolls with a talented freshman

UTSA baseball media day and practice on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

The batting cage was alive with activity Tuesday as UTSA hosted media day and prepared for Friday’s opener against the UT-Arlington Mavericks. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Last year, the UTSA baseball team relied on a time-tested veteran as its starting pitcher on Friday nights. Senior Luke Malone was the man to open most three-game series. When games got dicey, the Roadrunners called on reliever Simon Miller.

Coach Pat Hallmark. UTSA baseball media day and practice on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Pat Hallmark announced that freshman Robert Orloski will start the season opener Friday at home against UT-Arlington. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Bases loaded in the fifth? With the opponent’s cleanup man at the plate? UTSA trying to protect a one-run lead? Everyone at Roadrunner Field knew that Miller would get the ball in that situation.

Ultimately, UTSA rode the Malone-Miller combination to a 28-8 start that vaulted the Roadrunners into the national Top 25 for the first time in school history.

This season, they’ll open their first series of the season at home Friday afternoon with a different look altogether. Instead of veteran savvy on the mound, Coach Pat Hallmark will roll with a freshman. He announced Tuesday afternoon on media day that he’ll start highly-touted righthander Robert Orloski against UT Arlington.

As a matter of fact, the Roadrunners will stay young in the second game of the four-game series and in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, as well, going with sophomore righty Ruger Riojas. So, with Miller scheduled to pitch this season in the Cincinnati Reds’ minor-league system, who will take his place?

Who will fill that all-important bullpen role? Hallmark admittedly doesn’t have an answer just yet.

“I don’t know,” Hallmark said. “Multiple people at this point. Hopefully that evolves. From a pure talent standpoint, I don’t think we have a Simon Miller. Simon … had a major league breaking ball. He could keep his breaking ball from 87 to 90 miles per hour and keep it depthy. We just don’t have someone that’s going to do that, right?

Ruger Riojas. UTSA baseball media day and practice on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Ruger Riojas is set to open the season as the Roadrunners’ No. 2 starter. Riojas, from Wimberley, was 5-0 with a 4.11 earned run average out of the bullpen last year. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“We do have some guys that are pretty good. Daniel Garza’s solid. And others. But that’s an evolving role at this point.”

UTSA is banking on Orloski to have the chops to withstand all the pressure that comes with being an opening-day starter. Last spring, he was pitching in high school in Middleton, Idaho. In July, the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder with the low 90s fastball and good command was drafted by the Boston Red Sox.

Ultimately, he turned down the opportunity and decided he wanted to attend college instead. “He’s talented,” Hallmark said. “He was drafted by the Red Sox out of high school in the 20th round, so you know he’s got some talent. And he’s mature. I don’t think Rob will be rattled. I could be wrong, right? But eventually Rob’s going to be a very good college pitcher, so we might as well start finding out when right now.”

Orloski already rates as one of the most-watched pitchers on the team by the veterans. Junior third baseman Matt King said he enjoys watching him work. “I have a lot of high expectations for him,” King said. “I like watching him. He pounds the zone. He throws hard. He’s one of my favorite pitchers on this team.”

Matt King. UTSA baseball media day and practice on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, at Roadrunner Field. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Matt King is expected to play third base this season after starting most of the last two seasons at shortstop. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Honored as Gatorade Pitcher of the Year in Idaho in 2023, Orloski will hardly be the only newcomer on the field for UTSA on opening day. It is probably a safe bet that fans will see veterans Matt King, Isaiah Walker and Caleb Hill on the field somewhere. King, a preseason All-American Athletic Conference pick, likely will be at third base. Walker and Hill will be out there somewhere.

But after that, it’s hard to read Hallmark’s mind on who will be where. What is known, at this point, is that the newcomers will face expectations. UTSA won 38 games in each of the last two seasons. Both teams finished high in the Conference USA race. Everyone in the renovated ball park this spring will want to see all that, and more.

“It’s new, right?” Hallmark said. “There’s certainly expectations after the last two years, which is wonderful. We don’t shy away from it. That’s what we want. We talk about it. But (there) are new players. They haven’t done it before. So, we need to tee it up and see how they do.

“It won’t be perfect, right? We’re going to have bad games and some bad play. But I think we’ll figure it out. We just need to figure it out as soon as possible.”

Hallmark said a conference championship is the next step for his program.

“We finished second in the conference last year and third the year before,” he said. “I think it’s easy and appropriate to say the next step is to win a conference championship and to play in the NCAA tournament. Those are the two things that are the next step.”

Coming up
UT Arlington at UTSA

Game One – Friday, 4 p.m.
Games Two and Three — Doubleheader on Saturday, first game starting at noon
Game Four – Sunday, 1 p.m.


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