BERKELEY -- The California baseball team continued its slide on Saturday, dropping its sixth straight game and fourth straight conference series with a 10-4 loss to No. 9 Oregon under the lights. With the loss, the Bears (16-18, 5-9 in the Pac-12) fell to 4-6 on head coach David Esquer’s birthday, and they have now gone 2-9 in league play since a road sweep of Utah.
The Ducks (26-8, 11-3) downed the Bears in rather unusual fashion, belting four home runs after coming into the game with just eight longballs on the season, with Cal having surrendered just eight round-trippers in its previous 33 contests.
Two of those home runs came off the bat of right fielder Scott Heinemann -- his first two circuit shots of the season -- and another came off the bat of leadoff man Brett Thomas -- also his first dinger of the campaign.
“They came out really aggressive, and I don’t think they’re used to hitting home runs like that,” said head coach David Esquer. “They took advantage of where we are. We’re mis-casting players, and that makes it hard. Keaton [Siomkin] is not a Saturday starter. He’s just not. That’s no disrespect to him, but he’s not, but we’re pushing him in that spot because of the big holes that we’ve had to fill.”
Despite banging out eight hits, only two Bears hitters registered multi-hit days – freshman Nick Halamandaris (2-for-4) and sophomore Chris Paul (2-for-4) -- while for the second game in a row, 3-4 hitters Devon Rodriguez and Andrew Knapp combined to go 1-for-8. Rodriguez -- who started the season on a .351 tear -- has just four hits in his last 39 at-bats. Knapp, for his part, has been on a 3-for-16 slide. A contributing factor to the middle-of-the-order struggles has been the fact that the fifth spot in the order has a season-long batting average of .202 (25-for-124).
“That’s a hole. The fifth spot has not been productive,” said Esquer of the spot in the order behind Rodriguez and Knapp. “It’s not been productive -- not enough -- and not consistently, where the pitcher really feels he’s got to work right now. That’s a hole ... I think they’re just struggling as it is, and our team, as a result, is struggling for a lot of different reasons. That’s just a component of it.”
Oregon rattled off 14 hits, with five different Ducks tallying multi-hit days, led by a 3-for-5 day from Heinemann, who scored three runs and drove in four. Of Oregon’s 14 hits, eight were for extra bases.
Blow by Blow
Sophomore Siomkin lasted just one inning, surrendering five runs on five hits and one walk in the top of the first. Reliever Collin Monsour gave up a first-pitch home run to Thomas to lead off the top of the second, and then a 2-2 soaring solo blast to Heinemann with two outs, to make it 8-0 in favor of the Ducks.
“Not that we expected even four or five innings, but we’re basically throwing relievers,” said Esquer, who’s team has labored due to lack of effective starting pitching and an injury to left-handed pitcher Michael Theofanopoulos limiting the amount of arms available, in no small part due to the hole in recruiting caused by the 2011 cutting and reinstatement of the program.
Of the four pitchers brought in as a part of that thrown-together recruiting class, the two scholarship arms -- Michael Jordan and Robb Woodcock -- have not thrown a single pitch, with Woodcock transferring out, and the two walk-ons -- Siomkin and Chris Muse-Fisher -- being too inconsistent to be reliable weekend starters.
“We were hoping to get three [innings], at most; If he could get us three, we’re not going to let him go,” Esquer said of Siomkin. “He couldn’t get us three.”
Cal then began to chip away in the bottom of the second, when a one-out line-drive single to right by freshman first baseman Halamandaris was followed up by a base hit from freshman left fielder Grant Diede and a cue shot groundout to first by sophomore third baseman Paul to move both runners into scoring position.
Junior right fielder Jacob Wark then slammed an 0-2 fastball off of Ducks starting pitcher Cole Irvin’s mitt and into shallow right for a two-run single to cut the deficit to six runs.
With sophomore lefty Chris Muse-Fisher in a two-on, one-out jam in the top of the third, pitching coach Mike Neu was ejected for chirping at home plate umpire Joe Maiden -- which will cost the second-year coach Sunday’s finale. Muse-Fisher then clutched up, fanning Thomas and getting second baseman Aaron Payne to pop out weakly to short.
“There was a little back-and-forth, but in the game of baseball, it was pretty mild,” Esquer said of his pitching coach’s ejection. “That’s unfortunate, because we lose him tomorrow, too. It’s not great for us. It was a very mild back-and-forth. The umpire asked him to cool it, and he didn’t curse him, but he didn’t stop. It was very mild.”
The Bears got some momentum going in the bottom of the third, with a first-pitch leadoff no-doubt home run to left center field off the bat of freshman center fielder Devin Pearson, and a first-pitch curve that got away from Irvin hitting second baseman Brenden Farney between the numbers.
After Farney advanced to second on a weak chopper up the first base line by Rodriguez, Cal looked to be in business with Halamandaris at the dish. The former eighth-round pick of the Seattle Mariners sent a hard scorching grounder to the left side, but instead of leaping or freezing, Farney ran right into the ball, which hit him in his back foot, ending the inning on runner’s interference.
“Big play,” Esquer said. “That’s 8-5, and I really think -- I thought -- with the fence dimensions as they are, you’re a cheap home run away from really causing some problems. That was a big one. That was a big play.”
Irvin tossed 5.0 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts on 88 pitches, earning his conference-leading eighth win of the season.
With senior righty Ryan Wertenberger turning in 2.2 innings of scoreless ball, the Bears broke through for another run in the bottom of the fifth on a slow, rolling single through the left side with two outs by Knapp cashing in a leadoff walk by Pearson. With the lead now a manageable four runs, and four more innings to go, Cal looked to be in good position to charge back, but after Knapp’s single, the Bears got just one more hit for the rest of the game against relievers Darrell Hunter and Garrett Cleavinger.
The Ducks were held scoreless from the third inning through the eighth, with ousted starter Justin Jones looking every bit his old self, striking out four of the first eight batters he faced thanks to a very sharp curveball and solid fastball command.
“I’m looking for anything positive, for sure,” said Esquer, who’s veteran lefty had allowed 11 earned runs in his previous 14.2 innings on 25 hits.
With two outs in the top of the eighth, the senior lefty left a fastball out over the plate for powerful Ryon Healy, who promptly deposited Jones’s 2-1 offering off the façade of the RSF in left center field for his sixth home run of the season.
“The two-out home run by Healy -- that’s how you put teams away,” Esquer said. “You just show that you’re going to keep scoring. As long as we were holding them, the momentum was turning our way, a little bit.
“I second-guessed myself a little bit, too, because with Healy coming up, I thought about getting [Jones] out and getting a right-hander there for that spot, but you’re looking to tomorrow -- how many pitchers do you want to burn with guys that you’re going to use tomorrow? I had Logan [Scott] in the back of my mind to get Healy, but you’re still chasing four runs, and we may need Logan for a little bit of time tomorrow. I kicked myself there, but again, you’re still chasing four runs. It’s not like it was a tie game.”
Jones then surrendered a leadoff home run to Heinemann on a 3-1 fastball in the top of the ninth for the final tally.
“We kind of hung in there a little bit, while we were throwing up those zeroes, and we kind of turned the momentum of the game around a little bit,” Esquer said. “We had the momentum our way in the middle of that ballgame, and then Farney got hit by the ball. That stopped a little bit, and then they daggered us with the homer in the eighth -- the two-out, nobody-on homer. You’re chasing four, but you’ve got six outs to their three.”
The Bears and Ducks go back at it at 1 p.m. on Sunday with either Dylan Nelson or Logan Scott on the hill for the start. Scott has returned to his 2011 form coming out of the bullpen, with a 1.90 ERA in 11 appearances -- all in relief -- with opposing hitters batting .213 against him in 23.2 innings of work.
“You still have to hand the ball off to somebody, and you may want to hand the ball off to Nelson to see if he can get in a run like he did against USC,” Esquer said. “We didn’t do it early enough [tonight]. Keaton gave up five, so down the line we might have to look at [Trevor] Hildenberger to start. Wertenberger, Hildenberger, Nelson and Scott will decide the game. If anyone else pitches, the game is decided in the wrong way.”
Oregon will likely go to Jake Reed, who is 3-3 in eight starts this season with a 3.75 ERA and a .237 opponent batting average.