There were two significant upsets Tuesday. Arkansas was held to four hits in a 3-2 home loss to South Dakota State, whose junior righthander Alex Oberle worked 6 2/3 strong innings against a dangerous offensive club. In Chapel Hill, three William & Mary pitchers shut out North Carolina on four hits in a 3-0 win. UNC's bats showed some life against a good Michigan pitching staff this past weekend, but it's going to be an up-and-down season for the Tar Heels' offense, which simply doesn't have as much firepower as in past years.
Texas, another strong pitching team facing questions about its offense, was nearly the day's third upset victim, but the Longhorns rallied late to beat Texas State 4-3. Bobcats sophomore righty Carson Smith (7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) stymied the Longhorns and left with a 3-1 lead, but once Smith was out Texas stormed back with three runs in the bottom of the eighth, capped by Paul Montalbano's game-winning two-run single. We'll have more on Smith in tomorrow's Weekend Preview. For now, let's hit the mailbag:
Have you heard anything recently on Josh Spence? I am probably going to the ASU/Auburn game on Friday and was wondering if he might be back from his injury. (Of course, with the way the Sun Devils are hitting—and the schedule they've played—they don't seem to need him yet.) Also, do you know the severity of Curt Casali's and Aaron Westlake's injuries for Vanderbilt? Thanks as always!
Des Moines, Iowa
As Luke points out, Arizona State has been just fine without Spence, its injured ace senior lefthander, jumping out to a 12-0 start (more on ASU's early success in Weekend Preview tomorrow). But Spence, a third-team All-American last year and an unsigned third-round pick, is certainly a key to the Sun Devils' national title aspirations, and the fact that he has yet to pitch (with the only public explanation being a cryptic "arm soreness") in the first three weeks is disconcerting.
But there is progress to report.
"He started throwing on Monday," Tim Esmay told Baseball America today. "It's almost like the first day of spring for him, like he just got back from Christmas break. The arm feels good, there aren't any setbacks. Now we've just got to get him into game shape, so we'll increase his workload a little bit and have him throw to hitters." [...] Continue Reading »
Louisiana State righthander Anthony Ranaudo—the top-rated college pitcher in the 2010 draft class entering the season—will miss a third start this upcoming weekend due to a stress reaction in his throwing elbow. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Return Of The Pac
In Southern California, up is down, black is white, night is day. Maybe it's La Nina.
Perennial superpower Cal State Fullerton, ranked No. 4 in the preseason, has lost its first three weekends and tumbled all the way out of the Top 25. Fellow Big West heavyweight UC Irvine lost a series last week for the first time in 20 weeks and sits just 6-5. San Diego, with one of the most talented rosters on the West Coast, has lost six of its last seven to match Fullerton's 4-6 start. And Southern California, the most storied program in college baseball history, is just 5-6 after losing a home series to New Mexico.
But UCLA, a notorious slow starter and underachiever, has raced out to a 9-0 start for the first time on record (dating to 1955). The 15th-ranked Bruins swept Nebraska this weekend and have quality wins against Vanderbilt, Long Beach State and USC.
UCLA coach John Savage said the offense—run by assistant coach Rick Vanderhook, previously George Horton's assistant at Cal State Fullerton—has been the key to his team's perfect start, and an area scout in SoCal agrees.
“Right now it seems like the only team out here playing to their capabilities is UCLA," one area scout said. "You want to know why? Rick Vanderhook. He brings energy to the game, and he wants a tough player. Once they buy in, they will be successful, because John Savage is a really good pitching guy and a really good recruiting guy. They complement each other really well, they do. Hook is a no-BS, get-after-it kind of guy. Hook has always been a winner. I think the marriage of Hook and Savage—watch out. I really think there's a lot to be gained there." [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—After mustering just five runs on 13 hits in their previous three games heading into Sunday, Texas' hitters decided something had to be done.
"We kind of struggled in the first two games (at the Houston College Classic this weekend)—we faced good pitching—so today we wanted to come out and prove ourselves to the people here," junior outfielder Kevin Keyes said. "We'd been struggling, so we had a little team talk last night, the hitters, and I think it really worked well. We found our confidence today, and hopefully it'll carry over to the rest of the year."
But it took until the sixth inning for the Longhorns to find their confidence against Missouri on Sunday. Trailing by two runs, Texas finally put together a big inning, erupting for six runs in the fifth en route to an 8-5 win. The big blows were Jordan Etier's two-run single and Tant Shepherd's two-run double off the left-field wall. [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—Immediately after the final out was recorded and the postgame handshakes were completed, all of Rice's players and coaches disappeared into the tunnel behind the third-base dugout at Minute Maid Park.
More than 20 minutes later, the players filed back out to collect their equipment. From the solemn expressions on their faces, you'd never guess the Owls had just beaten Texas Tech 3-2.
Finally, Rice coach Wayne Graham ambled out of the tunnel.
"I'm sorry guys," Graham said to the group of reporters waiting outside the dugout, "but I had to—what do you call it?—vent my wrath.
"I was stretching the bounds of my vocabulary."
So, what made Graham so upset after a 3-2 victory against a quality opponent?
"The baserunning," he said. "It was unbelievable. It isn't that we gave up three outs on the bases, it's that we gave up three baserunners. That's much worse than just giving up three outs. We can't do that. You just can't run yourself out of innings, in a situation where it isn't even that tough of a baserunning situation." [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—The first two pitches of the game made all the difference.
Houston shortstop Blake Kelso jumped on Texas righthander Brandon Workman's first pitch of the game for a triple to right-center field.
Workman's next pitch, a curveball, bounced in the dirt and scooted away from catcher Cameron Rupp, allowing Kelso to race home for the game's first run.
It would also be the game's last run. Workman settled down in a hurry, retiring the next 14 batters he faced en route to a sparkling eight-inning outing, but Houston starter Michael Goodnight was even better. The sophomore righthander allowed just two hits and four walks while striking out nine over seven shutout innings, and Houston stunned the No. 3 Longhorns, 1-0.
Goodnight found his groove in the middle innings, retiring 13 straight Longhorns to end his outing, before handing off to relievers Ty Stuckey and Matt Creel. One area scout on hand said Goodnight held the velocity on his 89-92 mph fastball better than he has in the past, and his 81-83 slider looked better than ever. He also mixed in a slow 70-71 curve and four changeups. [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—Texas righthander Brandon Workman has a big arm, but Longhorns coach Augie Garrido said in the preseason that Workman was starting to learn that there's more to pitching than lighting up the radar gun.
"I think he sees that less is better," Garrido said in February. "He came from a small school, and the thing that he could do is really throw hard—and he still can, but I think he sees the difference between pitching and throwing hard."
Workman still has the ability to throw a 93 mph fastball anytime he wants, but today against Houston he's had more success pounding the bottom of the zone with an 86-90 sinker. He's also mixed in a power curve at 76-77 and an 84 mph changeup against lefties.
After allowing a triple to Blake Kelso leading off the game, Workman has retired 12 straight heading into the fifth. Clearly, he is maturing as a pitcher.
HOUSTON—Like everyone else in Minute Maid Park on Saturday afternoon, Missouri coach Tim Jamieson saw why Texas Christian lefthander Matt Purke was a first-round pick out of high school last June.
"Great stuff. I was obviously impressed with him," Jamieson said. "No question, he's the real deal."
Purke had the best start of his young college career, allowing just one run on five hits and two walks while striking out seven over 5 1/3 innings. He earned a no-decision, as the TCU bullpen coughed up a two-run lead in the eighth inning, but th Horned Frogs won in extra innings, 4-3.
It was a sloppy finish, filled with baserunning gaffes by both sides, but Purke was the big story.
"It's a shame Purke didn't get a win, but certainly he pitched really well and threw a lot of strikes, and got his breaking ball over," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "He's just like any other pitcher: You can't pitch with just your fastball." [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—Augie Garrido couldn't conceal his jubilation Friday night, and he didn't try to. The Texas coach had just watched his team pull out a thrilling 2-1 win to snap a four-game losing streak to rival Rice, and he seemed downright giddy as he held court in front of a handful of reporters along the first-base line at Minute Maid Park.
"It's an exciting win because it gives confidence to the players," Garrido said. "With these really tight games, they understand the importance of details. And when you lose those games it can motivate you too, because it was played in a championship environment. It was played like a championship game, and most of the games played at this time of year are not played at that level . . . Both teams had to grind it out. They both had to fight hard, and they both did. We just found a way to win this one, and that doesn't always happen. I am excited about it. It's good, at 71, to be excited."
For seven innings, the story of this game was Texas sophomore righthander Taylor Jungmann. He was utterly dominant against Rice's talented lineup, racking up eight strikeouts over seven shutout frames while allowing just two hits and two walks. He held the velocity on his 91-94 mph fastball deep into his outing and mixed in a devastating 79-82 power slurve and an 84-86 mph "screw-change", as he calls it. [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—Raynor Noble said the Houston team he saw Friday afternoon bore little resemblance to the Cougars he saw over the team's first seven games. And the coach was not complaining.
The Cougars carried a 2-5 record into the Houston College Classic, and they were coming off an 8-2 loss to rival Rice on Tuesday.
But Houston got strong pitching from Chase Dempsay, William Kankel and Matt Creel on Friday in a 3-0 win against Missouri.
"We had a little come-together after that debacle against Rice, and made up our minds that we were tired of messing around," Noble said. "It showed today. Whether we can capture that and keep it remains to be seen, but this is a nice win for us." [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—Texas Tech ace Chad Bettis had very good stuff Friday and appeared on his way to a dominating performance after striking out two in a scoreless first.
Texas Christian ace Steven Maxwell did not have his silver hammer or his good fastball, working at 87-89 instead of his usual 88-93, and he looked on his way to a rough outing after giving up two runs in the first.
But Maxwell battled through six innings—the last five of them scoreless—and Bettis was tagged for seven runs on 11 hits over his six innings (despite striking out nine), as the Horned Frogs cruised to an 11-2 win in the first game of the Houston College Classic.
It looked like things were only going to get worse for Maxwell when Taylor Ashby smacked a line drive off his hip for a 1-2-3 putout leading off the second. TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle and the Horned Frogs' trainer came out to check on Maxwell, who visibly gathered himself with a few deep breaths and a number of warm-up pitches between batters. He remained in the game, and the liner proved to be a turning point.
"It really got me on the hip bone, that joint where the leg moves, so I was definitely feeling it the whole game," Maxwell said. "But it kind of helped me force myself to get my adrenaline going so I wouldn't feel it as much, and that's the environment I pitch best in. So it actually helped me out a little bit, got me more focused." [...] Continue Reading »
HOUSTON—I just ran into Rice assistant coach David Pierce in the press box here at Minute Maid Park, and he had a few interesting nuggets to pass along.
First, Pierce said senior righthander Mike Ojala is progressing well in his recovery from Tommy John Sugery just more than eight months ago. Ojala threw to hitters yesterday and looked good, and Pierce said he hopes to give Ojala some spot duty in a lopsided game in the next week or two.
Pierce said the Owls will throw sophomore lefty Taylor Wall tonight against Texas, with lefty Tony Cingrani going tomorrow against Texas Tech, and Boogie Anagnostou going on Sunday against Texas Christian.
Finally, Pierce said catcher Diego Seastrunk will not play this weekend as he nurses a pulled oblique muscle suffered last weekend. But the Owls should be fine behind the plate with sophomore Craig Manuel and unheralded but surprising freshman Geoff Perrett splitting the duties.
"Perrett has been a godsend," Pierce said.
Two quick news items to report before Aaron Fitt gets starting Tweeting and blogging from the Astros College Classic in Houston:
• Louisville lost two starters to injuries that will shelve them for at least the next two weeks. Senior first baseman Andrew Clark has a stress fracture in his left rib cage, while junior outfielder Josh Richmond broke a bone in his left hand on Wednesday in a victory against Evansville.
Clark is Louisville's current home runs, on-base percentage and RBIs leader, hitting .364/.529/.682 with two homers and 12 RBIs. He was a second-team all-Big East selection a year ago, when he led Louisville with 55 walks. Richmond, the team's starting right fielder and leadoff batter, is hitting .333/.444/.367. He was injured when he crashed into the right-field wall diving for a fly ball in the first inning of the Evansville game. Louisville plays host to Le Moyne this weekend.
• East Carolina suspended indefinitely two freshmen, middle infielder Bryan Bass and lefthander Tyler Joyner, for violations of team policy, coach Billy Godwin said in a release. Joyner has pitched in one game this season, getting four outs and giving up four hits and three runs; Bass, who started the season opener but has been used as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement at second base and shortstop five times since then, is 0-for-5 with two runs scored and four strikeouts.
We've got plenty of ground to cover before we get to this week's mailbag, as Tuesday was an interesting day in college baseball. In the Florida Four event at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the Atlantic Coast Conference teams carried the day, as Miami pounded South Florida 15-2, and Florida State jumped on Florida with seven runs in the first, then rolled to a 10-5 victory.
On the other side of the country, heavyweights from the Big West and West Coast Conference split two games, as Pepperdine blanked UC Irvine 4-0 behind five shutout innings from lefty Aaron Gates, and Cal State Fullerton beat San Diego 11-4 behind three hits and three RBIs from junior center fielder Gary Brown. BA's Dave Perkin was on hand for that one and came away impressed with Brown.
"Gary Brown is on fire," Perkin said. "He's hitting .419, but it's not just the average, it is the way he is hitting the ball. He had three hits last night. The first one was a single to left that was scorched; the second was a line shot that cleared the center-field fence. [...] Continue Reading »
Another Southeastern Conference team has been hit with a significant injury, as Georgia announced today that its starting shortstop, freshman Kyle Farmer, will be out three to six weeks with a hamate fracture in his left wrist, suffered in Friday's win against Stetson. He is scheduled to have surgery Wednesday.
Farmer started Georgia's first six games at short and ranks second on the team in batting (.458) and slugging (.667). After he was injured, the Bulldogs moved third baseman Colby may to short, and they plan to use freshman infielder Kevin Ruiz or sophomore catcher Christian Glisson at third base.
Meanwhile, starting second baseman Levi Hyams will be sidelined for at least another week with a stress fracture in his back. Freshman Todd Hankins has filled in admirably at second. [...] Continue Reading »
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.—When UC Irvine's Brian Hernandez stepped in against North Carolina State's Cory Mazzoni in the first inning of their teams' contest last Friday, it was an at-bat more than a year in the making.
Hernandez, a 6-foot-1 third baseman, was the Anteaters' top recruit in 2008. He was coming off a sophomore season at JC of the Canyons (Calif.) in which he was named his conference's player of the year after hitting .454 and leading all California junior college players in hits (84) and doubles (26). He was UCI's top incoming recruit that fall and would've slotted right into the middle of the Anteaters' lineup, which he did, only a year later than planned. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Maverick Magic
Texas-Arlington senior righthander Jason Mitchell was downright Strasburg-ian Friday against Missouri State.
Mitchell had a no-hitter through 8 2/3 innings before Missouri State's Travis McCormack singled up the middle on a 3-and-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth. Mitchell finished with a school-record 18 strikeouts while walking one and allowing just that one hit over nine shutout innings, but he didn't even get the win. The game remained scoreless until UTA's Steffan Guest delivered a walk-off single in the 14th inning.
"That was the best starting pitching job that I have seen since I have been at UTA," head coach Darin Thomas said of Mitchell's performance. "I have been here 10 years and have seen a lot of games. I don't know how you can do much better than taking a no-hitter into the ninth and striking out 18. He was outstanding." [...] Continue Reading »
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