Baseball Preview: UC Riverside

Cal State Fullerton hasn't won two straight series yet this season, following up each series win with a series loss during the first five weeks of the season. After sweeping UNLV last weekend, Fullerton is looking to change that trend against a team that has given them quite a bit of trouble since entering the Big West in 2002 – UC Riverside.

The defending Big West champions have gotten off to a terrible 6-12 start this season, including 2-9 on the road. The Highlanders split four games with Washington, lost all four games at Nebraska and lost 2 of 3 games at Nevada in their three weekend series before splitting two midweek games at Texas Tech this week. The way things have gone for Riverside this season were summed up rather well on Monday night at Texas Tech, where they got solid pitching but in the 9th inning allowed the winning run to advance to 3rd on a passed ball and score on a wild pitch.

LINEUP

Riverside returned most of the players who were responsible for the Highlanders having one of the better offenses in the Big West last year. However, the Highlanders have gotten off to a poor start at the plate this season, hitting only .247 as a team and averaging only 3.2 RPG against weekend pitching. Riverside has scored five runs or less in 13 of 18 games, going 1-12 in those games.

Riverside's philosophy at the plate is to wait pitchers out and see as many pitches as they can. After averaging well over 4 BB's per game last year, Riverside is averaging just over 3 BB's per game this season. Riverside is having trouble with hitters making contact, averaging almost 8 K's per game. Normally, that type of "all or nothing" approach would lend itself to hitting for extra base hits but Riverside has struggled in that area, averaging a little over one 2B per game with only 9 HR's on the season. Riverside usually doesn't play much little ball (12 SAC's) but they are running more this season (21 SB's, including five in the second game at Texas Tech) to try to get some offense going with good speed at the top of the lineup.

Riverside usually doesn't have strong defense compared to some of the other higher level Big West teams because they usually plug guys into spots to try to get more offense into the lineup and this year is no exception. The Highlanders have made 30 E's in 18 games, with the left side of the infield responsible for 16 of those. Riverside is 2-9 when making 2+ E's in a game.

Infield

FR Brett Hambright (RH - .235-2-6-1) has taken over as the starter at catcher for last year's backup, Jordan Opdyke (RH - .200-0-4-0). Opdyke has struggled defensively (10-10 SB's) and Hambright has been a little better (17-22 SB's) but both have struggled with blocking pitches, allowing 21 WP's/PB's. The C usually bats 7th.

The 1B and DH positions are shared by Mark Samuelson (LH - .184-2-3-2) and Ryan Goetz (LH - .267-1-6-1). Samuelson got off to a terrible start this season, going hitless in his first 29 AB's. He has heated since then, going 9-20 with 2 HR's, although he has struggled with making contact (15 K's in 49 AB's). Samuelson had a strong FR season last year with 7 HR's and 50 RBI's, including a game tying 9th inning RBI double in the Friday night win in the pitching duel between Wes Roemer and James Simmons and an HR off of Michael Morrison in the 1st inning of the Sunday game. Samuelson usually hits 6th. Goetz was a part-time player last year (.292 avg in 89 AB's) as a FR, getting more playing time later in the season, including an RBI double in the Friday night game against Fullerton, and has been a regular this season, usually hitting 4th or 5th.

2B Drew Garcia (Both - .387-1-16-1) has been the best player for Riverside both offensively and defensively and will be batting 3rd. Garcia is not patient at the plate as he has yet to draw a walk so anything he sees near the plate he has been hitting it. He is making up for lost time after taking a medical redshirt last season and hit .275 as a part-time player in 2006. SS Bryan Horst (RH - .300-0-6-0) was the backup middle infielder last year and has struggled defensively, making 7 E's. He usually bats 9th. Ben Price (Both - .191-1-5-1) was the starting 2B last year (.272-1-32-2) but was moved over to 3B with Garcia returning and has struggled defensively, making 6 E's. Price is very patient at the plate, walking 46 times in 147 AB's last year, but has struggled making contact (17 K's in 47 AB's) and will usually bat 8th. The backup infielder is FR Trevor Hairgrove (RH - .200-0-2-0).

Outfield

Riverside returns all three starting OF's from last year with Aaron Wible (RH - .240-0-7-2) in LF, Carl Uhl (Both - .220-1-7-8) in CF and Joey Gonzales (LH - .250-0-6-3) in RF. Wible usually bats cleanup and has gotten off to a slow start. He was one of the leading power hitters on the team last year (.313-10-51-2) and had the game winning RBI in the Friday game with Fullerton and an HR off of Jeff Kaplan in the Saturday game. Uhl is the leadoff hitter, the fastest player on the team and was the team leader in SB's last year with 15. Uhl hit .305 last season and will work the count (36 BB's last year, 12 this year). Gonzales hits second and was the Big West FR of the Year last year, hitting .352 with 9 SB's, including 2 H's and a key SB in the Friday night game with Fullerton. Gonzales has also gotten off to a slow start and having trouble making contact is a big reason why (17 K's in 64 AB's). The 4th OF for Riverside is FR Tony Nix (RH - .250-1-2-0).

PITCHING

Riverside had one of the best pitching staffs in the Big West conference last year, which was a key reason why the Highlanders won the conference title. But, Riverside didn't return any of their SP's and 1st team Big West closer Joe Kelly has been injured all season, making only his second appearance on Tuesday at Texas Tech. The Highlanders also lost their pitching coach before the season when Andrew Checketts went to Oregon. Riverside has been getting decent work from the weekend SP's but most of the time it hasn't been enough to overcome the team's slow start at the plate and poor defense.

Starters

Friday - Stephen Penney (RHP – 0-2, 5.01 ERA, 4 starts, 23 IP, 24 H's, 6 BB's, 20 K's) was one of the main middle relievers for Riverside last season (5-2, 5.40 ERA, 29 apps, 42 IP, 37 H's, 17 BB's, 38 K's) and is one of the few experienced pitchers. Penney has been solid in 3 of his 4 starts, allowing 2 R's (5 1/3 IP) against Washington, 3 R's (7 2/3 IP) against Nebraska and 3 R's (5 IP) against Harvard with his only bad start at Nevada, allowing 7 R's (5 ER) in 5 1/3 IP.

Saturday - Matt Larkins (RHP – 3-1, 3.00 ERA, 4 apps, 3 starts, 21 IP, 19 H's, 8 BB's, 16 K's) is one of the many FR that Riverside brought in this year and he has pitched well. Larkins allowed 3 R's (6 IP) against Washington and 2 R's (7 IP) at Nevada and wasn't helped by his defense at Nebraska (5 IP, 6 R's, 2 ER) in his one poor start. He threw three scoreless innings in relief last Friday against Harvard.

Sunday – Arizona transfer and midweek SP Paul Bargas (LHP - 0-2, 4.24 ERA, 5 apps, 4 starts, 23 IP, 26 H's, 7 BB's, 16 K's) will likely be moved into the weekend rotation after throwing 7 innings at Texas Tech on Monday (4 R's, 3 ER's). Bargas pitched well against Washington (6 IP, 3 R) and San Diego State (5 IP, 1 R) but poorly against LMU (4 1/3 IP, 5 R). Paul Applebee (LHP - 1-3, 5.64 ERA, 4 apps, 3 starts, 22 IP, 34 H's, 4 BB's, 11 K's) pitched poorly in his first start against Washington (2 2/3 IP, 8 R's, 4 ER) but has pitched better against Nebraska (6 1/3 IP, 4 R's) and Nevada (8 IP, 3 R's). Applebee pitched 5 1/3 innings of relief at Texas Tech on Tuesday after Kelly threw 20 pitches in a designated start.

Relievers

The bullpen has been unsettled due to Riverside having to use so many newcomers and Kelly not being available due to an arm injury, although Kelly should be available this weekend. JC transfer Ryan Waite (RHP – 0-1, 4.76 ERA, 1 SV, 9 apps, 11.1 IP, 13 H's, 7 BB's, 10 K's) has been filling in at closer. The middle relievers being used most often have been JC transfer Rob Platt (RHP – 1-1, 5.06 ERA, 9 apps, 10.2 IP, 16 H's, 7 BB's, 14 K's) and DJ Smith (RHP – 1-0, 3.29 ERA, 1 SV, 6 apps, 13.2 IP, 14 H's, 4 BB's, 16 K's), who made 13 apps out of the bullpen last year. Smith finished off Tuesday's game at Texas Tech for the save. The only other LHP's on the staff are Bargas and Applebee.

OUTLOOK

Many of the variables this weekend favor Fullerton, despite the Titans previous troubles with Riverside. Although Fullerton has struggled in this series, the Titans have won all three Big West series with Riverside at Goodwin Field, winning 2 of 3 in each series. Despite having many LH hitters (including the switch-hitters who will hit LH vs. RHP), Riverside has struggled vs. RHP, going 1-8. Riverside has also struggled on the road this season, going 2-9 and Fullerton has played very well at home, going 7-1 including sweeps of Southern Miss and UNLV. Riverside's pitching will likely keep them in each game this weekend but with their lack of offensive production and the way that Fullerton has been scoring at home (averaging over 8 RPG), if Fullerton's pitching continues to be solid this weekend as roles have started to be solidified on the pitching staff, the Titans should win two out of three games.