Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The final week of the regular season was already going to be a challenge for the UNLV baseball team. Now the Rebels must go through it without manager Tim Chambers in the dugout.
Chambers received an automatic four-game suspension for making contact with an umpire, the Mountain West announced Monday. Chambers was ejected from Sunday’s loss at San Diego State after arguing a tag play at third base.
“I went out to stand up for my guys after a close play at third base and the argument escalated,” Chambers said in a statement. “In no way was I attempting to intentionally come into contact with the umpire.”
Associate head coach Stan Stolte will take over head-coaching duties in his absence. The four games represent all that remains on UNLV’s regular-season schedule.
The Rebels (30-20, 17-10) host Arizona State on Tuesday and then close with a three-game home series against UNR from Thursday to Saturday. All Mountain West series this weekend are one day earlier than usual to allow extra travel time for next week’s league tournament, which starts Wednesday at Earl E. Wilson Stadium.
The ejection bookended a weekend marred by absences. It started with news that top starter Erick Fedde is done for the season because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow.
He will undergo Tommy John surgery, which might or might not affect his status as a first-round prospect in June’s Major League Baseball draft. The number of Tommy John surgeries is growing — throughout all of MLB’s levels there have been at least 33 since Feb. 18, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan — while the procedure is getting more sophisticated.
For most pitchers throwing above 94 mph, the question now is when, not if, they will require the surgery. So teams may have already been looking at Fedde as someone who may have to miss time with this injury.
“He may not get the money he would’ve gotten,” Chambers said, “but I still feel he’ll go in the first round.”
Fedde’s season ends with a 1.76 ERA, a league-best 82 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings and an 8-2 record.
Initially, Fedde didn’t even want to get an MRI. He planned to come back and pitch Saturday, but with literally millions of dollars riding on his arm there was no way that would be allowed. Instead Fedde’s close friend, John Richy, had to shake off the bad news and prepare to pitch.
“Get yourself together and get ready to go. The team needs you. Now you’re the No. 1,” Chambers said he told Richy. “And he was electric. Maybe as good as I’ve ever seen.”
The Rebels won that game and then dropped the remaining two. It leaves them one game back in the Mountain West standings, and while a conference title is still on the table Chambers has his eyes set on more modest goals for right now.
One victory against rival UNR ensures the Rebels a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament. For a banged-up team that’s been great at home (18-2) that could be huge because the Rebels need only win three games to win the tournament.
“When we’re home and we can rest, we’re really good,” Chambers said. “These kids need rest.”
Fedde’s injury is the most notable but it’s hardly the only one the Rebels have dealt with this season. Chambers said the accumulation of injuries like hamstring pulls and shoulder strains that have littered his lineup rivals any he’s dealt with through a season of coaching.
Certainly the difficult road schedule has had at least something to do with that bad luck. That’s why the Rebels are hoping 18 straight days at home, which on a lineup full of locals means a lot of home-cooked meals, could be just what they need to finish strong.
No matter who’s on the mound or in the dugout.
“When (stuff) goes haywire,” Chambers said, “this team is so close they know that the next guy has to step up. And they will.”