San Diego Tourney Preview: Fresno State

Fresno State has qualified for four straight regionals and is predicted to make it five in a row after being picked by the WAC coaches to win the conference.

Thursday – Fresno State Bulldogs (6-6)

Fresno State has qualified for four straight regionals and is predicted to make it five in a row after being picked by the WAC coaches to win the conference. The Bulldogs struggled last season to live up to the expectations of being the defending national champions after losing almost every pitcher who contributed to their run to the national title in 2008 and had to win the WAC tournament to get into a regional and they went 0-2 at Irvine. Fresno State brought an experienced team into this season and lost only one pitcher from last year and a few position players although one of them was one of the heroes in their national title run, 3B Tom Mendonca (3rd in the country with 27 HR’s in 2009).

Fresno State got off to a good start this season by winning three of four games in their opening series with Nebraska and followed that up by winning two out of three games at Washington. The Bulldogs hit .327 with 12 HR’s and a .538 SLG % in bludgeoning their way to five wins in those seven games and scored 39 R’s in their 5 wins and 10 R’s in one of their losses but their offense came to a screeching halt when George Horton brought his Oregon Ducks to town last weekend. Fresno State scored only 11 runs while being swept in a four game series as Horton improved his record against Fresno State to 25-3 in his last 28 games against them. The Bulldogs rebounded on Tuesday with a 10-9 win at home against Santa Clara and got a solid outing from their SP before the bullpen gave up 8 R’s. The pitching staff has been fairly consistent for Fresno State with an ERA in the high 4’s before Tuesday’s slugfest but the defense has been porous and has committed 26 errors, 11 against Oregon.

Fresno State’s offensive philosophy is to play grip and rip it baseball. The Bulldogs will take a patient approach at the plate and wait for their pitch and tag it when they get it. Fresno State finished fifth in the country in BB’s and was in the top 25 in HR’s and top 50 in runs scored. The Bulldogs rarely bunt (29 SAC’s last season, 3 this year) and don’t run much (44 SB’s last year, 8 this season). Fresno State has had a pretty consistent lineup with seven of their regulars starting in every game except for one start by the backup catcher. The Bulldogs were a below average defensive team last season with 86 E’s and a .964 fielding % and that has carried over to this season.

Fresno State’s pitching staff took its lumps last season with the departure of so many pitchers after their 2008 title run. The staff had an ERA of 5.61 and allowed teams to hit .283. Two areas that the Bulldogs pitching staff was adequate in was not walking batters and for the most part keeping the ball in the ballpark by not giving up HR’s. Fresno State figured to have an improved pitching staff and the ERA is better but not as good as expected. The Bulldogs got three solid starts in four games against Nebraska but the SP’s struggled in the first two games against Washington and were ok in the last three games against Oregon but weren’t done any favors by the poor defense. Fresno State has gone to their bullpen often with no starter going longer than 6 1/3 IP in any start and the relievers have usually done a solid job of keeping the Bulldogs in the game.

Lineup

C – Soph Trent Garrison (LH – .375 BA/.405 OBP/.719 SLG, 3 HR-11 RBI-0 SB) started 25 games last season and hit .219 in 96 AB’s but has flourished at the plate as the regular catcher. He usually hits 8th and gives Fresno power at the bottom of the lineup. Garrison has struggled some defensively and allowed 13-15 SB’s and 11 WP’s/PB’s.

1B – JR Jordan Ribera (LH – .333/.412/.778, 6-11-0) had some big hits in Omaha in 2008 but struggled at the plate last season (.189 in 74 AB’s, K’d 30% of the time) before getting hot in the WAC tournament and hitting a couple of key HR’s. He started out scorching hot in the first two series and hit .429 with 6 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in seven games before he cooled off against Oregon when he went 2-13. Ribera usually hits 6th.

2B – JR Danny Muno (Both – .333/.444/.489, 1-4-0) was the SS the last two seasons but is a poor defensive player and made 28 errors last season and has already made 6 errors this year. However, at the plate it is a different story because Muno does an outstanding job of getting on base. Muno was the leadoff hitter last year but has been hitting 3rd this season. He led the team with a .379 AVG, .525 OBP and 13 SB’s last season and was in the top ten nationally in BB’s and 2B’s. He was 1st team all WAC last season and was chosen by the WAC coaches as the pre-season MVP. FR Justin Charles (LH – 2-8) has played in the last four games with Muno usually playing SS and Charles batted 9th in three of those games.

SS – SR Isacc Vivas (RH – .250/.286/.375, 1-3-0) is a better defensive player than Muno and only made four errors last season in 32 starts but has already matched that total this year. He only hit .225 last season and has usually been a liability at the plate before he hit a walk-off HR on Tuesday. Vivas has started in 8 of 11 games and will hit 9th when he is in the lineup.

3B – JC transfer Garrett Weber (LH – .298/.340/.319, 0-6-2) had the unenviable task of replacing Mendonca in the lineup. He started out well going 11-30 with 6 RBI in the first two series before struggling against Oregon when he went 3-16 with 0 RBI. Weber hit 2nd in the first ten games. He has struggled some defensively and has made three errors.

LF – JR Bobby Coyle (LH – .296/.321/.370, 1-8-1) transferred from Arizona (’09 stats – .316/.345/.483, 3-37-6) and received a hardship waiver in order to be eligible to play without having to sit out a season. He has been a solid hitter at the top of the lineup and led off the first ten games before hitting 2nd and 3rd the past two games.

CF – Soph Dusty Robinson (RH – .327/.365/.469, 1-8-2) doesn’t have the best range in CF but more than makes up for it at the plate and has been the cleanup hitter in every game. He had an outstanding FR season (‘09 stats –.319/.394/.604, 15-45-7) and was 1st team all WAC last year and was chosen by the coaches to be 1st team all WAC again this season.

RF – Soph Brennan Gowens (LH – .356/.431/.467, 0-3-2) had a solid FR season (‘09 stats – .280/.404/.423, 5-27-6) and has gotten off to a good start this year. He has batted 5th in 11 of 12 starts.

DH – Soph Kenny Wise (LH – .429/.538/.810, 2-9-0) didn’t start the first five games of the season but has been in the lineup since then and usually hits 7th. He is another player who had a solid FR season (‘09 stats –.291/.368/.551, 6-28-6 in 102 AB’s).

Pitching

Starting Pitchers

Soph Derek Benny (RHP – 0-0, 6.59 ERA, 4 apps, 3 starts, 14 IP, 20 H, 8 BB, 11 K, .345 BA, 0 HR, 6 HBP, 2 WP) came into this season as the Fri SP and was picked by the coaches as the pre-season WAC pitcher of the year after a solid FR season (4-4, 5.09 ERA, 16 apps, 12 starts, 87 IP). Benny got roughed up by both Nebraska and Washington and wasn’t in the rotation against Oregon and pitched better against Santa Clara on Tuesday when he allowed 1 R on 8 H in 5 2/3 IP. He has a good sinking fastball in the low 90’s and a solid slider.

Soph Cody Kendall (RHP – 0-2, 5.74 ERA, 1 save, 4 apps, 2 starts, 16 IP, 20 H, 4 BB, 13 K, .317 BA, 1 HR, 2 HBP, 1 WP) started last Friday and could be in line to get the start against Fullerton. He had a solid outing against Nebraska when he allowed 3 R on 8 H with 0 BB and 6 K in 6 IP but was roughed up by Oregon when he allowed 6 R on 10 H in 4 IP. Kendall pitched mostly in relief last season (2-1, 9.21 ERA, 18 apps, 6 starts, 43 IP).

SR Matt Morse (RHP – 0-2, 5.74 ERA, 4 apps, 2 starts, 16 IP, 20 H, 4 BB, 13 K, .317 BA, 1 HR, 2 HBP, 1 WP) has had two solid outings in three starts (2 R allowed in 5 IP vs. Nebraska, 9 R allowed in 5 IP at Washington, 3 ER allowed in 6 1/3 IP vs. Oregon) but pitched last Sat and it would be doubtful that he would be brought back on short rest with Fresno having four games in four days. He has a fastball in the upper 80’s with a good changeup and good command. Mores was one of the SP’s for most of last season (4-3, 4.72 ERA, 19 apps, 11 starts, 80 IP).

Soph Charlie Robertson (RHP – 0-1, 3.75 ERA, 3 apps, 1 start, 12 IP, 13 H, 4 BB, 6 K, .295 BA, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 0 WP) has taken on a bigger role on the pitching staff after throwing only seven innings last year. He started last Sat against Oregon (5 1/3 IP, 3 R, 6 H) with Benny moved to the bullpen.

Soph Josh Poytress (LHP – 1-1, 4.15 ERA, 4 apps, 3 starts, 17 IP, 16 H, 9 BB, 11 K, .271 BA, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 0 WP) is the only lefty in the rotation and has started all three Sunday games. He pitched poorly vs. Nebraska but has had solid outings in his last two starts against Washington and Oregon. Poytress was one of the SP’s last season (2-2, 4.25, 20 apps, 8 starts, 42 IP).

Relief Pitchers

Fresno State doesn’t have an established closer so they have been mixing and matching in middle relief and to finish games. Here are the relievers most likely to see action this weekend. All of them saw action out of the bullpen last season except for Gonzalez, who is the only reliever with a save besides Kendall who is now in the rotation.

JR Gene Escat (RHP – 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 5 apps, 7 IP, 5 H, 6 BB, 2 K, .263 BA, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 1 WP).
SR Sean Bonesteele (RHP – 0-0, 2.70 ERA, 3 apps, 7 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 4 K, .250 BA, 1 HR, 0 HBP, 1 WP).
Soph Tom Harlan (LHP – 0-0, 4.15 ERA, 7 apps, 4 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 K, .267 BA, 0 HR, 0 HBP, 0 WP).
Soph Taylor Garrison (RHP – 1-1, 6.35 ERA, 4 apps, 6 IP, 10 H, 1 BB, 4 K, .400 BA, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 1 WP).
JC transfer Greg Gonzalez (RHP – 1-0, 10.50 ERA, 1 save, 5 apps, 6 IP, 15 H, 6 BB, 8 K, .455 BA, 2 HR, 0 HBP, 2 WP).
SR Zac Bishcoff (RHP – 0-0, 10.80 ERA, 4 apps, 3 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 2 K, .438 BA, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 0 WP).