SAN DIEGO–I arrived in San Diego early this afternoon in time to catch the start of the California-Fresno State game that kicks off this weekend’s USD Tournament, and I’m happy to report the weather is characteristically gorgeous: sunny, mid-60s, gentle breeze. The buzz among scouts here at Cunningham Stadium was that California ace Tyson Ross would not pitch tomorrow and was going to have an MRI on his right shoulder. Golden Bears coach Dave Esquer confirmed after the game that Ross won’t pitch this weekend, but he said the MRI rumor was false.
"It’s just precautionary. It’s not worth it this time of year," Esquer said. "He felt a little knot, a little tightness (in his lat), and he just didn’t bounce back as well from his last outing as he should. He’s still throwing 92-93, but we’re just not going to risk anything with him."
The way the Bears are swinging the bats, it might not matter who’s on the mound (and for the record, Esquer said lefthander Todd Fitzgerald will get the start tomorrow against Missouri). Cal broke open a 6-4 game with five runs in the bottom of the sixth, en route to a 14-4 rout. Worse than the score for Fresno State is the short outing turned in by ace lefthander Justin Wilson, who was chased in the fifth after allowing five earned runs on nine hits. The Bulldogs were counting on Wilson to go deeper into the game to save the bullpen for the three remaining games this weekend, but instead they’ve had to use four relievers. The Bears, meanwhile, pounded out 16 hits and will carry plenty of momentum into the rest of the weekend.
"That’s what we’re looking for, is to play hard and build some confidence," Cal coach Dave Esquer said. "We believe that we can do things like that, but to be able to see that against a quality pitcher like Wilson who pitched the opening game of their regional last year . . . We came into this knowing that the teams out here have been places that we want to go, so it’s a big challenge for us, and we’re up for it."
Chatting with San Diego Rich Hill a few innings ago, he recalled how Wilson shut down the Toreros in the San Diego regional last year. Hill remembered Wilson throwing 90-92 with tons of movement, and USD’s lefthanded hitters couldn’t touch him. That makes it all the more impressive that California preseason All-America first baseman David Cooper (a lefthanded hitter) was able to take Wilson out of the park to the opposite field in the third, a two-run homer that gave Cal the lead for good.
"My first at-bat, I walked, and I noticed he was pitching away, away, away with his fastball," Cooper said. "To start the second at-bat, he went cutter, then he went back to fastball away, and that’s the one I hit. He was kind of just working on that half of the plate, just trying to stay close, because left-on-left, you just have to focus on staying close. That’s one thing I’ve been working on a lot–this year I seem to have a little more opposite-field power than I did last year, and I still definitely can keep improving on it."
Esquer said he wasn’t surprised to see Cooper go deep the other way.
"He’s hit more opposite-field home runs this year than I’ve seen anybody hit. He can still pull the ball–he’s a complete hitter. He’s probably the best hitter I’ve ever coached. He’s off to a great start, and we just hope to keep him going."
One other note: San Diego lefthander Brian Matusz stopped by to say hello when I was sitting behind the plate during the first game, and he reports that he feels great and is ready to take on Fresno State flamethrowing righthander Tanner Scheppers tomorrow.
"Two guys throwing 95-plus–it should be fun," Matusz said.
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