Washington (13-26, 5-10 in the Pac-12) has the third-worst ERA in the conference (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). But, California head coach David Esquer says, the Huskies – who the Bears face this weekend in a three-game set in Seattle – are not pushovers.
"They're better than their numbers," says Esquer. "I think they have starting pitching. I think their starting pitching is OK."
Cal (18-22, 7-11) travels north to start off the second half of Pac-12 play, starting with a 5 p.m. tilt against the Huskies at Husky Stadium on Friday night, with freshman righty Ryan Mason on the hill. Mason will be opposed by Washington ace Austin Voth, who comes in with a 4-4 record and a 2.96 ERA, with a .236 opponent batting average and 77 strikeouts to 24 walks in 70.0 innings of work.
Of the 11 quality starts turned in by Huskies pitchers this season, seven belong to Voth, a 6-foot-1, 209-pound junior.
"Their starting pitching is a strength of theirs," says Esquer. "I don't think it's deep much in the pen. I don't think they hit much early, but I think they're hitting better now."
During conference play, the Huskies have a staff ERA of 3.92, fourth in the Pac-12 behind No. 6 Oregon State, No. 8 UCLA and No. 7 Oregon. Over the past nine games, Washington has gone 5-4, with a win over Stanford, two wins over the Beavers and a pair over No. 22 Gonzaga, despite starters posting a 6.63 ERA in 36.2 innings.
The Huskies have, however, scored 54 runs (6 per game) over the past nine games, more than 2.5 runs per game more than they had averaged over the course of the season.
What should play right into the sinkerballer Mason's hands is the fact that sophomore first baseman Trevor Mitsui leads the league in double plays grounded into, leading a lineup which is second in the league in twin-killings (32).
On the offensive side, the Bears' lineup has been woefully inconsistent of late, as Cal has gone 2-10 over the past 12 games, scoring 40 runs during that span. Particularly vexing has been the decline of slugger Devon Rodriguez, who's swing has been altered due to pain in his right shoulder, which was injured in fall practice and has worsened to the point of requiring postseason surgery over the past month.
Since the Bears' 15-5 win over USC on March 30, Rodriguez has gone 8-for-52 (.154) with six RBIs, eight strikeouts and just two extra-base hits. Seven of Rodriguez's eight hits, though, have come in the past six games, when he's gone 7-for-26 (.269) with four RBIs, a double and a home run.
While Rodriguez has been relegated to designated hitter duties, true freshman Nick Halamandaris has taken over at first base, and has shown marked improvement since his slow start after missing the first 21 games with a broken thumb.
In his past seven games, Halamandaris has gone 9-for-37 (.243), upping his season average from .100 to .193 and slowly rounding into form. True freshman Mitchell Kranson has also started to see the ball much better, with even his outs jumping off the bat. Kranson has three hits in his last six at-bats with one strikeout, one run and one RBI, and may see time at third after sophomore Chris Paul returned from a concussion on Tuesday to go 1-for-4 with a strikeout.
"He's swinging the bat comfortably right now, which he hasn't been," says Esquer. "We'll see what the lineup is going to look like on Friday. I'm not quite sure."
Pitching beyond Mason is also a question mark. The Bears are 10th in the Pac-12 with a 4.72 staff ERA, dead last with a .295 opponent batting average, last with 402 hits allowed, last in earned runs allowed (185), second-to-last with 202 runs allowed, last in triples (15), 10th in home runs allowed (20) and have thrown the second-most wild pitches (43). After junior lefty Kyle Porter threw three one-hit, scoreless innings on Tuesday, he has a chance to re-enter the weekend rotation, and may pitch on Sunday, but that's far from certain.
"I think if I continue to perform and put up zeroes, I can get myself back in the rotation, but we'll see what happens," says Porter.
Esquer will likely send side-arming righty Trevor Hildenberger to the mound to start Saturday's 2 p.m. contest, and beyond that, it will be best-available.
"Maybe still Hildenberger, and then we'll see what relievers we haven't used," says Esquer. "We're going to pitch to win as often as we can, so if that means using Mason, [Keaton] Siomkin and [Logan] Scott, we're going to."
Siomkin threw 3.1 innings of scoreless, two-hit relief on Sunday with one strikeout, while Scott has been the best relief option for the Bears, going 3-1 in 14 appearances with a 2.30 ERA in 31.1 innings of work, striking out 27 and walking 10.
The Bears will conclude the three-game set with a 1 p.m. getaway day tilt on Sunday, before returning to the Bay Area to face Pacific in Stockton, Calif., on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Klein Family Field.
PREVIEW: Washington By the Numbers
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