HOUSTON—At least Dillon Newman brought his 'A' game Friday. The Baylor righthander turned in seven crisp innings of three-hit, shutout ball in a 9-0 win against California in Friday's Astros Foundation College Classic opener, salvaging a game that was darn near painful to watch at times.
In its first trip through the order, Baylor had four runners thrown out on the basepaths—three of them on decisions that coach Steve Smith referred to as "boneheaded." That prompted Smith to pull three of his starters in the third inning to send his team a wakeup call.
"At some point, I've got to live with the guys that are on the bench," Smith said. "I feel like if we see a trend, if we're trending in a certain direction, and we don't make changes, then that message to the bench is not a good one. I've never been a guy to just jerk a guy out of the game, particularly after a physical mistake."
Fortunately for Baylor, Cal was even sloppier, especially on the mound. Senior lefthander Justin Jones battled through four innings, allowing seven hits and three walks, and exiting after 90 pitches. Once upon a time, Jones worked in the 86-89 range with his fastball and bumped 90 mph, but he sat at 81-83 Friday. He had no ability to make hitters swing and miss, and his delivery looked out of sync—his hat flew off his head multiple times after he finished his delivery with a violent head jerk, owing in part to his shaggy hair.
"He just needs to continue to work, hope he clicks and catches a roll with it," Cal coach David Esquer said. "A hundred pitches in four innings, on a Friday—that's not going to set you up well for many weekends."
And yet Baylor mustered just two runs through those four innings, the second coming after Cal right fielder Jacob Wark lost a ball in the sun for a leadoff triple in the fourth. Again, this game was not a work of art.
"First time through the order, they either walked us or kicked it around five times and we had one run," Smith said. "So this was very much a game if Dilly's not as sharp as he was."
But Newman was sharp, striking out eight without issuing a walk in his second straight strong start. Newman has issued just one walk over 12 scoreless innings in his last two starts, finding a home in the rotation after spending nearly all of his first two seasons in the bullpen.
"The thing he's been consistent at is throwing strikes, which on our staff makes a guy special," Smith said. "Today was good. His stuff was sharp, he had secondary stuff to go along with fastball command . . . Dilly's always had—he showed up with a pretty special change. It's an unusual change, a lot of guys might go back to the dugout and call it a split, it's got a lot of late life to it."
That nasty change in the 79-81 range makes Newman's 86-87 fastball play up. He mixed in a slurvy breaking ball and a cutter to give hitters a decent look.
"My change is by far my best pitch," Newman said. "We try and stay away from it early in a game, just so later in a game it will be really effective."
It's all part of his evolution as a starter. He was in full control Friday, in a game where control was a sight for sore eyes.