Baseball Preview: UC Riverside

Cal State Fullerton continued to scuffle last week with injuries turning the lineup into a M*A*S*H unit and also impacting the rotation with Noe Ramirez missing his second straight start as the Titans went 2-2, losing their midweek game but winning the weekend series to maintain their lead in the Big West.

San Diego battered the Cal State Fullerton pitching staff and sent the Titans to their third defeat in four games in a 12-8 slugfest last Tuesday.  All six pitchers who saw time on mound for Fullerton struggled to get hitters out and the defense made three errors and had a couple of more plays that were questionably not ruled errors.  The Titans were led at the plate by Carlos Lopez, who had four hits and three RBI, and Tyler Pill, Nick Ramirez and Ivory Thomas each scored two runs.

Fullerton was happy to be home after losing three out of four games on the road and defeated Pacific 12-6 in a sloppy opening game of the series that saw the teams combine to make seven errors.  Neither starting pitcher was effective as the Tigers jumped out to a 6-4 lead before the Titans bounced back with three runs in the fifth inning and four more runs in the sixth to put the game away.  Keegan Dale led the way at the plate in his second game in a Fullerton uniform with three hits and three RBI, Ramirez and Lopez both had two hits and two RBI and Anthony Trajano had two hits and scored three runs.  Raymond Hernandez threw 2 1/3 solid innings of relief to get the win but the story of the night on the mound was Chris Devenski throwing four shutout innings with six strikeouts to get his first career save.

Pacific evened things up on Saturday with an 8-7 win in another sloppy game that saw the teams combine to make five more errors.  The Tigers jumped on Fullerton for five runs in the first inning with three of the runs unearned thanks to two errors by the Titans and Fullerton was playing catch up the rest of the game.  The Titans attempted to put together a rally late in the game with runs in each of the last three innings but were too far behind to come back for the win.  The leading hitters on the night for Fullerton were Greg Velasquez with three hits, including his first career HR, Ramirez with two hits (one of them his Big West leading 7th HR) and Pill with two hits and an RBI.

Fullerton bounced back from splitting two poorly played games with Pacific to win the series deciding game 6-4 in a cleanly played contest that didn't have any errors.  The two teams traded runs in the third and fourth innings before Pacific tied the game in the fifth.  The game stayed tied until the eighth inning when Lopez hit a two run HR into the arboretum to settle things.  Other leaders at the plate for the Titans were Trajano with a two run single and Ramirez with two hits and an RBI.  Dylan Floro had a solid seven inning start and Nick Ramirez retired all six batters he faced to pick up his first win of the season.

Fullerton is looking to add to their lead in the Big West standings this weekend at UC Riverside, a ballpark that has been less than hospitable to the Titans since the Highlanders entered the Big West in 2002.

UC Riverside Highlanders

  • Overall Record – 23-15 in 2011; 32-23 in 2010
  • Conference Record – 6-6 in 2011 (5th); 13-11 in 2010 (3rd).   
  • 2010 Post-Season – None
  • 2011 RPI/ISR – 108/42.  2010 RPI/ISR – 74/34
  • Current ranking – None
  • Predicted conference finish – 2nd by the Big West coaches and 3rd Baseball America


2010 Summary and 2011 Preview
 
UC Riverside won the Big West in 2007, had a rebuilding year in 2008 when they went 21-33 but tied for 3rd in the conf at 14-10, and had similar records the last two seasons ('09 – 33-20, 12-12, 4th and '10 – 32-23, 13-11, 3rd) when they were on the fringe of at-large consideration for getting into regionals with RPI's in the 70's in both seasons.  The Highlanders had won seven of eight series and split two others and were on a roll after winning seven of nine games heading into their series at Fullerton last season.  The Titans swept Riverside and finished off any hopes that they had at contending for the Big West title and the Highlanders won two of their final three series to end up finishing in third in the conference.
 
Riverside came into this season with expectations of having their best season since they won the conference in 2007 with all three weekend SP's and their closer returning along with most of their lineup.  The Highlanders haven't been too consistent and they got off to a slow start by losing three out of four games with LMU, bounced back won seven in a row in a stretch that included a sweep of Sac State and wins in their first three games at ASU's tournament before the Sun Devils beat them in the final game in ten innings and lost seven of their next ten games, including a series loss at Cal Poly to start the Big West season.  Riverside won their series with Pacific and lost the first two games at Long Beach before winning the final game, which ended up being the first win of another seven game winning streak that was snapped last Sunday by UCSB.  The Highlanders bounced back to beat USC 10-6 on Tuesday.
 
Riverside's offensive approach last year was to play for the big inning by not playing much little ball as they ended up last in the Big West in SB and SAC's so it wasn't much of a surprise that the Highlanders would have some issues adjusting to the BBCOR bats.  However, they didn't expect to struggle as much as they did because Riverside was held to four runs or less in 18 of their first 22 games.  The Highlanders have started to be more productive on offense and have scored five runs or more in 12 of their last 16 games.   Riverside hit .273 in their non-conf games but has improved to .298 in Big West action.  The Highlanders have changed their approach somewhat this season instead of waiting for the big inning.  They have been more patient at the plate and have been running more and bunting more, already passing last year's totals in SB and SAC's, in an effort to try to generate offense with the deadened bats.
 
Riverside had the most improved pitching staff in the Big West in 2009 with the second best team ERA at 4.22, two runs lower than it was in 2008.  Most of the pitchers who were responsible for putting up those numbers were drafted and the Highlanders ERA shot back up to 5.85 in 2010.  Riverside expected their pitching staff to bounce back to where they were in 2009 with an experienced group that returned all of their starters along with their closer.  Two of the returning starters have had injury problems but they have been replaced by two of last year's midweek starters who have both pitched well and the Highlanders ERA has come tumbling down to 3.19.  Riverside has held their opponents to three runs or less in half of their games (going 15-4 in those games) to help keep the team over .500 while the offense figured things out.  The Highlanders don't have too many power arms but most of their pitchers except for one of their starters have very good control and they do an excellent job of keeping the ball down and preventing big innings by allowing the fewest extra-base hits in the conference.



Offense

  • Park Factor according to Boyd's World – 98 (decreases offense by 2%).  Standard dimensions, unique features are a 20 ft wall/batters eye in CF and drainage slopes behind the infield dirt down the 1B and 3B lines.
  • Batting Average – .281 (3rd in the Big West).  .311 in 2010 (3rd in the Big West).
  • Runs Per Game – 5.5 (4th).  7.1 in 2010 (4th).
  • Home Runs – 9 (7th).  58 in 2010 (2nd).
  • Slugging Percentage – .373 (3rd).  .491 in 2010 (2nd).
  • Walks – 149 (2nd), 4.0 per game.  184 in 2010 (5th), 3.3 per game.
  • HBP's – 31 (7th).  53 in 2010 (7th).
  • Strikeouts – 258 (4th), 7.1 per game.  297 in 2010 (7th), 5.4 per game.
  • Stolen Bases – 26-37 (8th).  22-42 in 2010 (9th).
  • Sac Bunts – 35 (5th).  25 in 2010 (9th).


Infield

UC Riverside has an experienced infield despite losing starters at C and 1B.  The Highlanders have three starters back from 2010 plus a three year starter who redshirted in 2010 along with a veteran catcher who has been in the program for four years.

SR #9 Dan Pellegrino (RH – .238/.270/.295, 0-15-1; '10 - .283 in 53 AB's, 2 HR, 8 RBI) has been a solid backup the past three years who could have been starting for many teams but was stuck behind 1st team All-Big West and 2nd round pick Robert Brantly.  He hasn't been the hitter that Brantly was but has done a good job behind the plate.  Pellegrino does a solid job of making contact but rarely walks (3/15 BB/K ratio).  Soph #36 Bart Steponovich (RH – .311/.415/.333, 0-5-0 in 45 AB's) is the backup and has been starting once a weekend and has struck out about 40% of the time.  Whoever is in the lineup will probably be hitting 8th.  Pellegrino has seen enough playing time against Fullerton to go 6-21 in his career against the Titans.

1B/2B – SR #1 Brian Horst (RH – .241/.351/.289, 0-13-3; '10 – .294/.255/.423, 4-27-1; '09 - .227/.306/.297, 1-14-4) has been splitting time between 1B and 2B after being the starter at 2B in 2010.  Horst doesn't have much power (only three extra-base hits) but does a solid job of working counts and putting the ball in play.  JR #22 Vince Gonzalez (RH – .230/.294/.262, 0-10-1 in 61 AB's) has been part of the rotation at 1B with Horst and will probably be in the lineup once.  He has a poor BB/K ratio (4/15).  Whoever is in the lineup will probably be hitting 6th or 7th.  Horst went 4-9 last year at Fullerton and is 5-16 in his career against the Titans.

2B – Soph #3 Eddie Young (LH – .257/.339/.295, 0-8-7; '10 – .270/.362/.357, 0-26-3) was expected to be a reserve infielder in 2010 but was forced into action due to some injuries and saw plenty of playing time against RHP's at 3B.  He is one of the faster runners on the team and leads them in SB's.  Young is also a good bunter and leads them with six SAC's.  He puts together solid AB's and has a good 14/18 BB/K ratio.  Young has been scuffling lately and is 11 for his last 50.  He will probably be in the lineup twice and has usually been hitting 9th.  Young went 2-9 at Fullerton last season.

SS – SR #10 Trevor Hairgrove (RH – .349/.424/.443, 1-23-3; '10 – .265/.354/.425, 5-24-0; '09 – .251/.343/.371, 2-29-3) has been the most improved player on Riverside's team and is one of the frontrunners for All-Big West honors at SS.  He has been a catalyst in the leadoff spot and has been hot and had a 14 game hitting streak snapped last Sunday, improving his average over 100 points during that stretch.  Hairgrove had two hits in each of the first two games against UCSB and went 7-13 against both Bakersfield and Long Beach.  He is among the conf leaders in AVG, H, 2B and TB.  Hairgrove had a good 17/22 BB/K ratio.  He went 2-9 at Fullerton last season and is 3-19 in his career against the Titans.

3B – SR #6 Ryan Goetz (Both – .318/.373/.422, 2-23-3; 2010 – Redshirt; 2009 – .340/.386/.502, 5-45-5) started at 3B in his first three years but injured his knee early last year and had to sit out the rest of the season.  He got off to a bit of a slow start as he was bouncing back from sitting out last year but has been hitting well lately and is batting .340 in Big West games.  Goetz doesn't walk much or strike out much (11/18 BB/K ratio) and usually puts together good AB's.  He is among the conf leaders in H and 2B and will usually hit 2nd.  Goetz is 10-35 in his career against Fullerton.



Outfield

Riverside isn't quite as experienced in the OF after losing two of the three players who split time between the two corner OF spots and DH but the two players who are returning were both 1st team All-Big West OF's in 2010.

LF/DH – FR #30 David Andriese (LH – .315/.396/.508, 4-23-1) moved right into the lineup after redshirting last year, replacing Michael Hur who moved on after his SR season.  Andriese has been a power bat in the middle of the lineup, usually hitting 5th, and leads the team and is 3rd in the conf in HR and SLG but has a big swing and is among the leaders in the conf with 35 K's.  He got off to a good start and was hitting in the 340's before going a 6-31 skid but bounced back against UCSB, going 5-11 with an HR and 6 RBI.  He will usually start once at DH and twice in LF during the weekend.

CF – SR #15 Tony Nix (RH – .287/.360/.406, 1-30-5; '10 – .361/.425/.699, 11-43-5; '09 – .318/.356/.514, 4-39-10) had a tale of two seasons in 2009 and 2010.  He was hitting well over .400 going into the Big West schedule in 2009 but barely hit .200 in conf games.  Nix got off to a slow start in 2010 but hit a scorching .386 off of Big West pitchers and was among the leaders in HR (7) and RBI (21) during conf games and ended up being one of the 1st team All-Big West OF's.  Nix has been a productive hitter this year in the cleanup spot and is among the conf leaders in RBI and 2B but he hasn't been consistent and has been in a slump, going 13-58 over the last five weekends.  He has only walked eight times but will crowd the plate and is 4th in the conf with 9 HBP.  Nix went 2-6 at Fullerton last season and is 3-17 against the Titans in his career.

RF/1B – SR #33 Justin Shults (LH – .297/.439/.422, 2-14-0; '10 – .390/.458/.695, 11-62-0; '09 – .310 in 56 AB's) went from being a reserve in 2009 to one of the most dangerous hitters in the conf on his way to 1st team All-Big West honors when he was among the conf leaders in AVG, HR, RBI, 2B, TB, SLG and OBP.  Shults hasn't adjusted well to the new BBCOR bats and has been struggling in all power categories but he has continued to be patient at the plate and leads the Big West with 33 walks and is 3rd in OBP and R.  He has been hitting 3rd and will usually start twice in RF and once at 1B during the weekend.  Schults went 2-11 at Fullerton last season.

RF/DH – Soph #4 Phil Holinsworth (RH – .231/.303/.321, 0-8-1; '10 – 3-10) is the fourth OF and the best defensive corner OF and will usually be a late inning defensive replacement when they have a lead.  He has been seeing most of his regular AB's against LHP's.  Holinsworth will usually be batting 8th or 9th when he is in the lineup.

DH – FR #27 Kyle Boudreau (LH – .258/.372/.303, 0-8-1) has been getting more playing time over the last month against RHP.  He doesn't have much power but he is patient (10 BB in 66 AB).  Boudreau has usually been starting twice during a weekend series and hitting 7th.
 

Defense

Fielding % – .975 (2nd) with 37 errors.  2010 – .971 (3rd) with 63 errors.  
 
Riverside has one of the better infields in the Big West.  Horst and Young are both solid at 2B, Hairgrove has been much better at SS and Goetz is a very good 3B.  Nix is solid in CF, Shults is average in RF and Andriese is below average in LF.
 
Stolen Base Attempts – 20-40 (2nd).  2010 – 51-79 (6th).
 
Pellegrino (14-23) has done a good job at holding down runners and Steponovich (6-14) has been outstanding.
 
WP's/PB's Allowed – 28 (2nd).  2010 – 46 (5th).
 
Both Pellegrino and Steponovich have been doing a strong job of blocking pitches and giving the pitching staff confidence in throwing off-speed pitches in the dirt.
 

Pitching

  • ERA – 3.19 (3rd in the Big West).  5.85 in 2010 (7th in the Big West).
  • BA – .250 (4th).  .321 in 2010 (9th).
  • Walks – 104 (2nd), 2.8 BB/9 IP.  164 (5th), 3.0 BB/9 IP in 2010.
  • Strikeouts – 282 (5th), 7.5 K/9 IP.  316 (7th), 5.9 K/9 IP in 2010.
  • Extra Base Hits – 68 (1st), 1.8 per game.  181 (5th), 3.3 per game in 2010.
  • HR – 5 (1st).  37 HR in 2010 (4th).

Starters

Riverside returned all three weekend starters from last season but injuries to two of them have shuffled things around.  Two of the starters have moved into the rotation after being relievers and midweek starters in 2010.

FRI – JR #35 Matt Andriese (RHP – 3-3, 2.33 ERA, 10 GS, 1 CG, 70 IP, 55 H, 16 BB, 54 K, .215 BA, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 3 WP, 7-10 SB; '10 – 5-5, 4.95 ERA, 14 GS, 4 CG, 104 IP, 130 H, 18 BB, 69 K, .315 BA, 4 HR, 9 HBP, 6 WP, 6-13 SB) has thrown much better than his record would indicate because he has not gotten much support with Riverside scoring two runs or less in seven of his starts.  He has also thrown much better than his already good stats would indicate because 7 of the 18 ER that he allowed came in one inning (Air Force) and his ERA in his other nine starts is an outstanding 1.45.  Andriese got outdueled at Cal Poly by Mason Radeke (6 1/3 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 3 K) but has only allowed 3 R in 33 IP in his last four starts, including ten shutout innings at Long Beach in which he allowed only three hits and a CG one-hitter at Bakersfield.  He is among the conf leaders in IP, ERA, K and AVG.  Andriese has a fastball that sits in the low 90's and a sharp breaking slider that he buries to make hitters pound the ball into the ground.  He allowed 6 R on 12 H in 8 IP in his start at Fullerton last season.

SAT – JR #21 Eddie Orozco (RHP – 3-1, 2.41 ERA, 7 GS, 41 IP, 33 H, 25 BB, 32 K, .223 BA, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 2 WP, 5-9 SB; '10 – 1-3, 8.71 ERA, 11 apps, 6 GS, 31 IP, 42 H, 15 BB, 21 K, .333 BA, 4 HR, 8 HBP, 8 WP, 2-4 SB) has one of the better arms on the staff but has had trouble with being consistent with his command during his career.  He has been much tougher to hit this season but has still struggled with control and has walked at least four batters in four of his starts.  Orozco was a midweek starter earlier in the season but moved into the weekend rotation recently and won his starts against Bakersfield (6 2/3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K) and UCSB (6 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 5 K), which was his longest start of the year.

SUN – Soph #14 Trevor Frank (RHP – 2-2, 3.77 ERA, 9 GS, 62 IP, 63 H, 9 BB, 45 K, .266 BA, 2 HR, 6 HBP, 3 WP, 1-5 SB; '10 – 3-3, 8.46 ERA, 17 apps, 8 GS, 50 IP, 79 H, 18 BB, 31 K, .374 BA, 5 HR, 8 HBP, 4 WP, 7-11 SB) had a similar season to Orozco in 2010 as a spot starter and long reliever but his command has been much sharper, he has been difficult to hit and he has been in the weekend rotation all season.  He is a strike thrower who has been efficient and able to work deep into games, going at least seven innings in five of his starts.  Frank threw well in his last three starts on the road at Cal Poly (8 IP, 2 R, 8 H, 2 BB, 6 K), Long Beach (8 IP, 2 R, 5 H, 0 BB, 0 K) and Bakersfield (5 IP, 2 R, 7 H, 2 BB, 6 K) but has not thrown well in his last two starts at home against Pacific (5 1/3 IP, 4 R, 10 H, 0 BB, 2 K) and UCSB (5 2/3 IP, 8 R, 9 H, 2 BB, 5 K).

JR #34 Dustin Emmons (RHP – 4-2, 4.95 ERA, 12 apps, 5 GS, 36 IP, 36 H, 10 BB, 24 K, .271 BA, 1 HR, 3 HBP, 5 WP, 2-4 SB; '10 – 9-4, 3.99 ERA, 16 apps, 13 GS, 2 CG, 90 IP, 114 H, 24 BB, 51 K, .314 BA, 4 HR, 9 HBP, 5 WP, 9-10 SB) was in the weekend rotation in 2010 after being 2nd team All-Big West as a reliever in 2009.  He was injured to start the season and was working his way bay back as a midweek starter and middle reliever to build up arm strength.  He made starts against Pacific and Long Beach, allowing 10 R in 9 1/3 IP, and has started the last two midweek games at San Diego State and USC and pitched into the 7th inning in each game.   He allowed 8 R on 10 H in 4 2/3 IP in his start at Fullerton last season.

SR #18 Matt Larkins (RHP – 4-1, 2.48 ERA, 5 GS, 33 IP, 26 H, 8 BB, 40 K; '10 – 6-5, 5.34 ERA, 14 GS, 86 IP, 103 H, 27 BB, 33 K, .316 BA, 6 HR,11 HBP, 3 WP, 4-14 SB) was in the weekend rotation last season and earlier this year, getting off to a good start and winning four of his five starts before having soreness in his forearm after his start at Cal Poly and he has been shut down.  He allowed 6 R on 11 H in 6 1/3 IP in his start at Fullerton last season.

Relievers

Riverside has a decent amount of experience in the bullpen and returns their closer and setup man from last year along with some pitchers who saw a limited amount of innings in 2010.

Closer – Soph #17 Mitch Patito (RHP – 1-3, 3.63 ERA, 6 saves, 16 apps, 17 IP, 16 H, 13 BB, 21 K, .254, 0 HR, 4 HBP, 0 WP, 1-1 SB; '10 – 3-0, 1.33 ERA, 3 saves, 21 apps, 27 IP, 13 H, 13 BB, 27 K, .138 BA, 1 HR, 8 HBP, 1 WP, 3-3 SB) has a good arm with a low 90's fastball and a solid curveball but command has been an issue and he has allowed nearly a BB/HBP per IP in 2010 and this year.  He has been on a short leash lately with other relievers also being used to close games and has been taken out twice in his last three outings when he couldn't finish up games.

SR #42 Mike Wolford (RHP – 2-0, 2.14 ERA, 1 save, 14 apps, 21 IP, 20 H, 3 BB, 16 K, .267 BA, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 3 WP, 0-2 SB; '10 – 3-1, 8.78 ERA, 4 saves, 21 apps, 28 IP, 50 H, 8 BB, 26 K, .400 BA, 6 HR, 3 HBP, 3 WP, 8-8 SB) was the closer last year but was removed from that role due to ineffectiveness.  He has thrown much better this year and has been getting the chance to throw key innings.  Wolford has good control but he has done a much better job this year of missing bats after getting hit around in 2010.

SR #23 Kevin Dickey (RHP – 1-1, 3.24 ERA, 2 saves, 9 apps, 8 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 4 K, .222 BA, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 0 WP, 0-0 SB; '10 – 0-1, 12.96 ERA, 12 apps, 17 IP, 33 H, 8 BB, 11 K) didn't pitch much last season and when he did the results usually weren't good but he has slowly worked his way into the equation in the late innings and is a strike thrower who has been pitching well and picked up the save last Fri vs. UCSB when Patito was pulled due to his wildness.

Soph #29 Mark Garcia (LHP – 1-1, 4.74 ERA, 12 apps, 1 GS, 19 IP, 22 H, 8 BB, 15 K, .301 BA, 1 HR, 2 HBP, 3 WP, 2-2 SB; '10 – 0-0, 10.80 ERA, 8 apps, 8 IP, 13 H, 5 BB, 7 K) and FR #5 Dylan Stuart (LHP – 1-1, 1.54 ERA, 12 apps, 23 IP, 24 H, 9 BB, 25 K, .293 BA, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 1 WP, 2-5 SB) give Riverside a good 1-2 LHP combo to bring into games for situational match-ups.  Stuart has a very good move and has picked off three runners.
 

Outlook
 
Fullerton goes into the series at Riverside in their first rut of the season (aside from the trip to the south) after going 3-4 over the last two weeks and often playing poor defense with so many new faces in the lineup.  The Titans are going to have a very difficult time winning this series if they continue to play as poorly on defense as they did against Pacific and at key times at Cal Poly.
 
Another reason that Fullerton has struggled the last two weeks has been a pitching staff that was the strength of the team for much of the season allowing six or more runs in four of their last seven games.  The Titans cannot pitch that poorly and win the series and getting a good outing from Noe Ramirez on Friday night after missing his last two starts is obviously a big key to Fullerton winning this series.   
 
Despite all of the shuffling around of players in and out of the lineup due to injuries, something that has been surprising recently has been the production of the Fullerton offense because the Titans have scored at least six runs in each of their last five games.  Fullerton doesn't expect to score that frequently off of a good Riverside pitching staff but doing enough at the plate to not put their pitchers behind the eight ball would go a long way towards the Titans winning this series.
 
Riverside enters this series playing their best baseball of the season after winning eight of their last nine games.  The Highlanders have held their opponents to four runs or less in seven of those games and have scored at least five runs in their last six games.  Riverside is playing with a great deal of confidence and they are looking to make a run during the final month of the season.
 
Home teams have been faring very well during the Big West portion of the schedule with visitors coming away with only five series wins in seventeen series (one of those series was at last place Northridge).  As most people are aware, Fullerton's lack of success at Riverside is pretty notorious with the Titans losing nine out of ten games out there before winning the final two games of the series two years ago.  If the Highlanders get on a roll in this series then Fullerton is going to be in trouble.
 
Riverside has been playing a more consistent brand of ball over the last few weeks than Fullerton has.  The Titans have been up and down on the mound and have been giving away too many outs in the field.  Fullerton obviously has a good enough team to win this series but if the Highlanders keep playing like they have been and Fullerton continues to be inconsistent this weekend then it is likely that Riverside will win two out of three games to win this series.