Oregon State Arms Aim For Redemption

CORVALLIS, ORE—Of all the things Pat Casey had to worry about in assembling the 2010 Oregon State baseball team, pitching wasn’t supposed to be one of them.

Replacing infielder Joey Wong, the last connection to the Beavers’ 2007 national champions, was huge. Getting somebody behind the plate to replace Ryan Ortiz was almost that big. Finding a regular spot in the lineup for Jared Norris’s left-handed power stick, certainly.

But pitching? The Beavers were loaded. Last year’s surprise Sam Gaviglio, lefthanded buzz-saw Josh Osich, 6-foot-5 lefthander Kraig Sitton, righthander Tyler Waldron, door-slammer Kevin Rhoderick and some promising rookies—most notably true freshman Jordan Poyer—were the tip of a pretty deep OSU iceberg.

That was yesterday. Now Casey is rubbing the eraser end of his pencil over some key names on his pitching staff and re-slotting some things.

The news that Osich, the Beavers’ potential Friday starter and the biggest arm on a staff filled with power arms, would miss the season after reconstructive surgery on his left elbow exploded like a land mine.

Osich, a spot man last year who had an impressive 2.05 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 26 innings, injured his arm in a freak accident in October and had Tommy John surgery on Jan. 12.

He was throwing in the Goss Stadium outfield when he hit a piece of unstable grass with his right foot and felt the pop in his arm. The surgery, Casey said, went well. The problem is that it went at all.

“I hope that there is a hunger for someone to fill that role,” Casey said at the team’s media day in late January. “Even though he is down, we are going to pick him up. It opens up an opportunity for someone who was not going to play that role.

“If you lose the guy who is your Friday night guy, you can’t fix something like that. They fix themselves.”

With what? The obvious first move would seem to be to run Gaviglio into the Friday slot and sort the rest out among Tyler Waldron, Sitton and the rest of the staff.

“The way it’s set up now,” Casey said, “if you don’t have a five-man pitching rotation, because you play so many games in a short period of time, things are difficult.”

The Beavers are not without a lot of moving parts, even after Poyer gave up baseball to concentrate on his promising OSU football career. The righthander from Astoria was drafted in the 42nd round by the Marlins last spring.

With the new dynamic taking shape, this would be a wonderful time for juniors Tanner Robles and Greg Peavey to reach their potential.

Overcoming Frustration

Robles, Peavey, Osich and Rhoderick were the top four signees in what looked like a dazzling recruiting class in 2007. The same class included Tim Alderson of Phoenix, who signed as expected with the Giants.

Only Rhoderick, who has 21 saves in two seasons, has come close to living up to expectations since 2007.

But Robles, a lefthander, and the righthanded Peavey have only given glimpses of their high school domination. Robles sat out five weeks last year with what he could only describe as a dead arm, then retired 20 out of 22 Washington batters in six starting innings at Safeco Field on May 8.

Peavey had 12 starts and a 5.74 ERA, but he also won four of his seven decisions.

Robles, the 6-foot-4 star from Murray, Utah, said his arm is as strong as it’s ever been. He said he spent the fall and winter working on his conditioning—which included a yoga class at OSU that has made him more flexible.

“It feels good and it feels strong,” Robles said of his arm. “All around I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been in, even high school.

“I’ve actually lost some pounds. I’m about 205-206. I used to be about 210.”

Robles wants in the Beaver rotation, and he doesn’t particularly care where.

“I feel like I want to lead this team and be a big part of it,” he said. “I haven’t been able to so far, and it’s been a big frustration.

“I don’t know if I’m going to start, but I’m going to work that way. I’m available.”

He said he isn’t thinking about the draft at all. Far from it. “I’m not really worried,” he said, “If I do my performance, it will work out for itself. I’d rather win a national championship.”

Growing Up Is Hard To Do

Peavey has concentrated on his conditioning, too. He wants his old starting spot back, too.

“I’ve really trained hard in the offseason,” he said. “We all have. Mainly I just wanted to have stronger legs and a stronger core. That’s what it comes down to.

“I did a lot of running. We run sprints, we run suicides. We’re running one or two miles a day, and at a pretty good pace.”

Peavey, who slipped to the 32nd round as a draft-eligible sophomore last year, feels more mentally ready for this season.

“Mentally, I’ve come a long way. In baseball, once you think you’ve got it, it’s going to kick you right in the butt. It’s just being prepared to accept failure, because it’s going to happen at this level.

“At the same time, you have to be able to minimize it. That’s something I didn’t really learn in high school. At this level you’re going to get kicked in the fanny. It’s how you respond to it.

“These have been huge growing years.”

The way things have changed for Oregon State pitching lately, it would be a good time for Robles and Peavey to start the season fully grown.

Norm Maves Jr. is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.