BERKELEY -- Holding a team to just one hit through the final six innings of a game and banging out seven hits are generally the recipe for a win, but the California baseball team could not overcome a six-run third inning against No. 18 Cal Poly, dropping a 7-1 decision on Tuesday evening.
The Bears (18-22) did get an encouraging sign thanks to three scoreless innings of relief on the part of junior lefty Kyle Porter, who struggled through a shoulder injury in 2012 after a Freshman All-American season in 2011, and was woefully inconsistent in his previous nine outings, surrendering three earned runs three times while holding opponents scoreless in his other six efforts.
“That’s the best he’s pitched in over two years,” said head coach David Esquer. “Hopefully, that may give us an option on the weekend that we can use. He’ll be able to pitch again by Sunday.”
Porter had given up 14 hits in his previous 12.1 inning of work, with eight walks and three extra-base hits, and had not pitched since April 16, and before that, March 29.
“It felt good to be back out there,” said Porter, who has pitched just once in the past three weeks. “It’s been a while, and it’s been a process, but it’s coming back. I think it’s been both mental and physical. It’s been a long road and a long process, but I’m getting back to the form I used to have.”
On Tuesday, Porter struck out two and allowed just a two-out sixth-inning single, showing off a fastball with a lot more zip, which greatly helped his off-speed and breaking pitches.
“I was just able to mix speeds and control it for the most part,” Porter said. “The fastball actually had some late life on it, a little run, a little late life on it, and that’s what I was missing. My fastball’s never been overpowering, but it does have late life.”
Porter’s velocity and arm slot were much improved from earlier in the season, and he showed flashes of the type of pitcher he was as a freshman, when he went 6-0 with a 1.89 ERA and a win in the College World Series.
“The slot is starting to get more comfortable, because before it was all over the place and would be different every day, just because I was trying to find someplace comfortable,” Porter said. “I’m finally comfortable again.”
Porter even pushed through a change in catchers, as struggling backstop Andrew Knapp was moved from behind the plate to right field in the top of the sixth, being replaced by freshman Mitchell Kranson.
“We had to [do that],” Esquer said. “We’ve created a lot of innings and scoring opportunities from the catching spot, and he’s trying. He’s a work in progress. We thought we’d give him a mental break, and get Kranson in there, just in case Kranson has to play a little bit more before the year is up.”
Kranson went 1-for-2 at the dish with a run, and has gone 3-for-6 over the past two games, playing catcher and third base. He did not start on Tuesday because sophomore Chris Paul came back to play third after missing four games with a concussion.
“He’s swinging the bat comfortably right now, which he hasn’t done, and I had to see what Chris Paul could do coming off of a concussion, so we’ll see what the lineup is going to look like on Friday. We’re not quite sure.”
Blow by Blow
Starter Justin Jones -- auditioning to re-enter the weekend rotation -- went a planned one inning, allowing one unearned run. The first hitter he faced -- Denver Chavez -- sent Jones’s 1-1 offering to the right side of the infield, where second baseman Brenden Farney tried to backhand the grounder, but instead saw it glance off of his right foot and into the outfield. Chavez was then bunted to second and rode home on a sacrifice fly by third baseman Jimmy Allen.
While Jones did not allow a hit, the balls that were put in play were hit well, disheartening Esquer and pitching coach Mike Neu.
“They got an error on the first play of the game, and that kind of set the tone,” Esquer said.
The 14th-year skipper said that he didn’t see any positive signs from Jones, who is working to get back into the form he showed in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“Nothing different from him,” Esquer said. “He got some pitches in. It was a pen day. When he’s dominant, that’s what we’re looking for.”
After junior righty Trevor Hildenberger held the Mustangs (27-11) scoreless in the top of the second, Cal threatened in the bottom of the frame, getting back-to-back singles from Devon Rodriguez and Nick Halamandaris to put runners at the corners with no outs. Paul then struck out swinging at a Casey Bloomquist breaking ball, followed by a swing-and-miss strikeout from Jacob Wark -- the Pac-12 leader in whiffs -- and a first-pitch slow roller up the middle by Brian Celsi to erase Halamandaris on a fielder’s choice.
“We would have punched back after that one run in the first, and I think it could have been a different game,” Esquer said. “We had three very non-competitive at-bats. It’s just non-competitive in that spot. We were very disappointed with those at-bats in particular. They just didn’t give us a chance. I thought that was a big part of the game. I thought that kind of set the tenor of the game. You don’t score and they score six. That sets the mood of the game.”
Cal Poly then exploded for six runs in the top of the third against Chris Muse-Fisher and Ryan Wertenberger, who combined to give up seven hits to the 10 batters they faced.
Fisher gave up a leadoff single to Chavez on a liner over third, and then saw his fourth pitch to Jordan Ellis bunted back to the mound, taking a funny hop off the lip of the grass in front of home plate for an infield single. A grounder to the hole at short off the bat of Allen was fielded by Reuvekamp, but the junior’s long throw to first was not in time, loading the bases for Nick Torres. Torres sent a grounder to the left side for an RBI single, and was followed by an RBI grounder up the middle from designated hitter Brian Mundell.
Muse-Fisher was then pulled for senior righty Wertenberger, who coughed up a second-pitch no-doubt home run off the top of the RSF for a three-run bomb.
Left fielder David Armendariz then sent a hooking liner into the left field corner which snuck over the temporary fence for a solo homer, giving the Mustangs a 7-0 lead.
Reuvekamp led off the bottom of the third by taking the first pitch he saw in the upper arm, but he was not awarded first because home plate umpire Greg Charles determined that Reuvekamp did not make enough of an effort to get out of the way. The junior infielder responded three pitches later with a line-drive single to left center, marking his ninth hit in his last 19 at-bats. Reuvekamp ha now hit safely in 13 of his past 18 games, and, thanks to a 2-for-4 day at the dish, registered two base hits for the fifth straight game.
Reuvekamp got all the way to third, but with two outs after a walk to Knapp, Rodriguez popped the third pitch he saw on the infield for an easy out to Chavez to end the threat.
Porter struck out Ellis in the top of the fourth, but the pitch low and in got away from Knapp, allowing the Mustangs center fielder to reach first. Porter then retired the next three straight without incident. The junior lefty got into a bit of a jam in the top of the fifth, walking leadoff man Elliot Stewart before fanning Armendariz on a change up in the dirt, getting a line-out to third off the bat of Peter Van Gansen and a one-hopper to short to end the frame.
“I thought he had a good differential from his fastball to his change up, which he hasn’t had in over two years,” Esquer said of Porter. “It looked like it got over 85. I’m anxious to see the velocity, because it looked like it was around 85 or 86 or 87, which he hasn’t pitched at in two years.”
Redshirt freshman Michael Jordan saw his first college action in the top of the seventh, getting two pop-outs in a 1-2-3 inning, but not quite showing enough for the coaching staff to press him into further action.
“I didn’t see enough of the breaking ball today,” Esquer said. “In our game, you’ve got to command the breaking ball. Mike [Neu] thought he had looked good in the bullpen, and wanted to see what he looked like, up against a hitter, but the breaking ball has to be a factor.”
Paul led off the bottom of the seventh with a hard grounder up the line at third, but was thrown out by Armendariz trying to stretch a single into a double. That would prove costly, as Kranson sent a sharp grounder into right for a single for his third hit in two games. After a tapper to the mound by Brian Celsi, Reuvekamp came up with his second hit of the day, pulling a hard grounder just inside the bag at third for an RBI double -- Cal’s first extra-base hit in over 17 innings. Bloomquist -- in the midst of his longest outing of the season -- then walked Devin Pearson on four pitches, before surrendering a bouncing single through the right side to Farney to load the bases for Knapp.
Knapp took a big cut at a first-pitch curve from reliever Taylor Chris, and then flied out to deep right center to leave the bases loaded.
The Bears now hit the road for seven straight games, with a three-game set against Washington this weekend, a Tuesday tilt against Pacific in Stockton, Calif., on April 30 and a three-game trip to Corvallis, Ore., to take on No. 6 Oregon State.
The Huskies (11-26) have the third-worst ERA in the Pac-12 (4.12), the third-worst team batting average (.257), the worst slugging percentage (.312), the worst on-base percentage (.328), the fewest runs (140), the third-fewest hits (314), the fewest doubles (41), fewest home runs (7), fewest total bases (382), fewest walks taken (83), fewest stolen bases (13) and have grounded into the second-most double plays (29).