Three Strikes: March 2

Strike One: Ducks Make A Splash

It was sunny but cold for Oregon’s first home game in 28 years, but the low-to-mid-40s temperatures weren’t about to keep fans away from the first game at brand-new P.K. Park.

"As you can imagine, there was a lot of anticipation, a lot of important people were there, and there was a passing of the baton from the old Oregon baseball history to the new," Ducks coach George Horton said Sunday. "It was a full house—rocking and rolling. My athletics director said it best—here’s a gazillionaire who’s seen a lot of sporting events, and he said he had a tear in his eye. It was a special game."

It wasn’t special just because it was Opening Day at the new ballpark. And it wasn’t special just because the Ducks were hosting defending national champion Fresno State. After battling the Bulldogs to a scoreless tie through eight and a half innings, the Ducks won it in the ninth on a pinch-hit RBI single from senior infielder Andrew Schmidt.

"He’s a kid that transferred to us from Tallahassee junior college," Horton said. "Basically he recruited us, just walked on campus. He decided the University of Oregon was the best place for him to graduate and keep his (academic) units and still play baseball. He’s been fighting to stay on our roster. After the fall I had a meeting with him and said it didn’t look real good for him, but he said, ‘I want to prove you wrong.’"

The Ducks weren’t content to win the opener. They rolled to a 7-1 victory Saturday to clinch the series before falling 10-3 on Sunday. Needless to say, Horton was thrilled that his pitching could hold the potent Fresno offense to one total run over the first two games. Freshman lefthander Tyler Anderson turned in his second straight sterling performance on Friday, allowing just six hits and a pair of walks while striking out five over eight scoreless innings.

"He’s the real deal," Horton said of Anderson. "That’s a kid that came out of nowhere, really. He wasn’t one of the big-name guys, one of the guys you pencil in to be the Friday night guy. He just kept getting better and better, his velocity went up from around 83 to the upper 80s to now topping out at 90-91. He’s got a little slurvy slider pitch–it’s two-plane and he can throw it to both halves of the plate.

"A real big pitch for him on Friday was his changeup–he’s developed a real good changeup. He’s mature beyond his years, he holds runners, fields his spot well, and it seems like he’s got ice water in his veins. We’re tickled to death—he’s got a great future here."

Junior righthander Erik Stavert followed with a strong outing Saturday, holding the Bulldogs to a run on six hits over 6 1/3. Stavert throws a high-80s to low-90s fastball with sink and run, a slider and a change from a three-quarters slot.

Horton said he really likes his pitching, but his offense still has a ways to go before he’ll be comfortable with it. Not that he’s complaining.

"The thing I like most about our team besides our pitching is they compete," Horton said. "They like each other, they compete together and they’re not afraid of anything. I thought they were a little slow to learn things in the fall and the first three weeks in February–things came very slow to them. But since the bell rang, they’re competing with the same pitch-by-pitch enthusiasm that some of my good teams at Fullerton were able to do.

"Our overall record’s 3-3, and we’ve got a lot of people patting us on the back. From my standard, 3-3 is not good enough, but then you step back and say, ‘Come on now, we’re a first-year program, and we just won a series from the national champs.’ You’ve got to tip your cap to (the players) that they’ve been able to pick this up so quickly."

Strike Two: Lingering Thoughts From Houston

I was anticipating a great weekend of baseball at the Houston College Classic, where five of the nation’s top 10 teams were duking it out. Yet somehow, the event managed to exceed my expectations. In nine games, I witnessed 16 starting pitching performances that I would characterize as impressive. I wrote plenty about the quality arms here on the College Blog this weekend, but here are a few hitters that stood out:

• Baylor freshman middle infielder Joey Hainsfurther is an on-base machine. He reached base safely in his final nine plate appearances of the weekend, going 2-for-2 with three walks Saturday against UCLA, then going 3-for-3 with a walk Sunday against Rice. He shifted from second base to shortstop this weekend and handled it adequately though not spectacularly, according to Bears coach Steve Smith, but he looks like he’ll be a special offensive player. Hainsfurther sprayed hits all over the field, twice singling to right field, twice singling up the middle and once doubling down the left-field line over Baylor’s final two games of the weekend.

"He’s putting the ball in play, he’s doing a good job with two strikes, and he’s a competitive hitter," Smith said. "Hopefully a couple older guys will take some cues from that, because he is doing a good job putting the ball in play."

• Bears junior third baseman Shaver Hansen is a fine all-around player who reminds me of former Georgia third baseman Ryan Peisel for his stellar defense, line-drive stroke and presence on the field. Like Peisel, Hansen is also a catalyst out of the leadoff spot.

• UC Irvine sophomore outfielder/first baseman Ryan Fisher looks poised for a breakout season. Fisher went 4-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs Sunday against UCLA, and he also tripled Saturday against Houston. He’s now hitting .409/.391/.591 through six games.

"Well, we’re real pleased with him," Irvine coach Mike Gillespie said. "That first at-bat (Sunday), they threw him six consecutive changeups, and it was the right thing to do. And we’re real pleased that he managed to make a pretty good adjustment, and in the next at-bat as well. Because like a lot of college guys, he scuffles like heck with offspeed stuff. And to see him make some progress with that, I’ll tell you this: It’ll be giant for his confidence."

• Gillespie likes to refer to senior shortstop Ben Orloff as a "skills grandmaster." The moniker is deserved: Orloff executed two picture-perfect sacrifice bunts this weekend. He also hit .364 with a double, two walks and three RBIs.

"(We have) this reputation as this little ball thing, but we understand it’s how you pitch, how you catch it, and still, you’ve got to hit it," Gillespie said.

Orloff isn’t just a gifted bunter and a stellar defender. He can hit, too.

• Texas A&M sophomore Brooks Raley gets more publicity for his work as the Aggies’ Friday starter, but he’s an explosive offensive player. He can really fly around the bases, and he is adept at serving the ball into the left-center-field gap. He’s going to hit a lot of doubles this year, and with his speed you can expect some triples, too.

• A&M senior Kyle Colligan can really play center field. He gets excellent reads off the bat, and his first-step quickness allows him to track difficult balls easily. The Aggies also have a star-in-the-making at shortstop in freshman Adam Smith, who showed fluid infield actions and a rifle arm. He’s also going to hit for power as he fills out.

• Blake Kelso and Zak Presley are two tough little outs atop the Houston lineup. Both put the ball in play consistently and are fast enough to beat out infield hits and wreak havoc on the basepaths. Both appear to be strong defenders at key positions, also.

• I was impressed with everyone in Rice’s lineup, from one through nine. A lot of scouts, coaches and media members were buzzing about how good of a hitter and all-around player freshman third baseman Anthony Rendon is, but there isn’t an easy out in that lineup. The Owls also use four players capable of playing shortstop in the infield, and three center fielders in the outfield. That defense is airtight.

"We’re going to make some plays if our pitchers throw the ball over the plate," Rice coach Wayne Graham said.

That’s an understatement.

Strike Three: Golden Spikes Spotlight on Brandon Workman

It wasn’t easy, but Brandon Workman managed to one-up his good friend Cole Green.

Green, a sophomore righty for Texas, was brilliant in a 1-0 win against Penn State on Saturday night, striking out seven and allowing just five hits and no walks over 8 1/3 shutout innings.

"Someone in the bullpen (Sunday) said, ‘Well, if Workman’s going to do better than Green this weekend, he’s going to have to pitch a no-hitter," Texas coach Augie Garrido said. "And he did."

Workman was brilliant in recording the 21st no-hitter in Texas history, and the second in two years. He allowed just three baserunners–on two walks and a clear-cut throwing error–and faced the minimum 27 batters in a 9-0 win against the Nittany Lions. Workman also struck out 10.

Garrido said there was only one near-hit, on Rick Marlin’s comebacker to lead off the ninth. The ball bounced off Workman’s foot, and shortstop David Hernandez fielded the ricochet and threw Marlin out at first.

The Longhorns have pitched so incredibly well as a staff this season (posting a 1.15 ERA through nine games) that Workman’s effort at first didn’t seem like anything special.

"It didn’t look out of place based on the kind of pitching we’ve gotten," Garrido said. "But then as it got into the sixth, seventh and eighth, you start to go, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I see what we’ve got going on here.’ From that point forward, for me it did take on the excitement and it did build as each inning passed."

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Workman, who improved to 2-0, 0.00 with 17 strikeouts and two walks in 16 innings this year, was setting hitters up with his 91-93 mph fastball, according to Garrido. He was able to elevate it when he wanted but also pounded the bottom of the zone.

"When he was behind in the count, he could go to his breaking ball," Garrido said. "He is a power pitcher, and I think what he did with his breaking ball is, they could not sit on his fastball when he was behind in the count. He was able to use his breaking ball to keep them off balance.

"The main thing was the location and command. Basically, since last year, he’s gone from a thrower with a good arm to a pitcher. And there’s definitely a big difference."