BSB: Cal Brings Rejuvenated Offense to Eugene

Robbie Tenerowicz has been on fire over the last three games, while Devon Rodriguez, Derek Campbell and Vince Bruno have brought the metal for a Cal offense that's hitting its stride for a season-ending series against No. 15 Oregon.

SERIES MATCH-UPS
Thu., May 22 at 7 p.m.: RHP Daulton Jefferies (2-7, 3.34 ERA) vs. LHP Tommy Thorpe (9-4, 2.33 ERA)
Fri., May 23 at 7 p.m.: LHP Kyle Porter (5-5, 3.30) vs. RHP Jeff Gold (10-1, 2.95)
Sat., May 24 at 7 p.m.: RHP Ryan Mason (6-1, 3.05) vs. RHP Brando Tessar (4-1, 3.48)

BERKELEY -- California may not be on the roll it was at the start of the season, when the Bears (24-26, 11-6 in Pac-12) got off to a 10-5 mark, but they have won three of their last four Pac-12 series and are 5-1 since losing four in a row against Oregon State and USC. Cal, it would seem, has a pulse, as does freshman second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz.

The first-year infielder has nine hits in his last 12 plate appearances, including four doubles, scoring four runs and driving in three. This weekend, he'll try his luck against the conference's second-best pitching staff in No. 15 Oregon, which boasts a 3.00 staff ERA.

"I'm excited to go to Oregon," Tenerowicz said of this weekend's three-game set at PK Park in Eugene. "It's a pretty big stadium. I watched a game there when I was in high school, and I've played there. I committed pretty early, but they didn't recruit me. I had a good game there, in a tournament at Oregon, and they walked right by me and didn't say anything."

The Ducks (41-16, 17-10) have pitched well despite losing a pair of lefties early in Matt Krook and Cole Irvin. MLB Draft hopeful Tommy Thorpe has picked u the slack, going 9-4 with a 2.33 ERA – the highest of his career – in 89.0 innings of work, striking out a staff-high 78 and walking 28.

Fifth-year senior Jeff Gold -- like Tenerowicz, a Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo grad – is 10-1 on the year with a 2.95 ERA, striking out 58 and walking just eight on the season, with a .242 opponent batting average.

"They've been good on the mound for the last two or three years, and they still are even with a couple starters going down," said Cal pitching coach Mike Neu. "Two of their starters have gone down this year, so their pitching depth has really shown. They have rebounded from losing two weekend starters, and are still in a position to be a high-seeded regional team."

The Bears are fighting to finish on a good note, and despite a .239 team batting average, seniors Vince Bruno, Devon Rodriguez and Derek Campbell have woken up in a big way over the past six games.

Rodriguez has gone 10-for-27 with three home runs and nine RBIs, while Bruno is riding a five-game hitting streak and has gone 9-for-24 with seven RBIs over his last six games. Campbell has reached base safely via a hit or a walk in each of his last seven, going 7-for-22 over that stretch, with a home run, two doubles, a triple and six runs scored.

Over the past seven games, Cal has averaged 5.86 runs per game, more than two runs per game more than the Bears had averaged over the previous 43 games.

When it comes to offense, Oregon is a perplexing team. The Ducks rank seventh in the Pac-12 in batting average (.264), but are first in the conference in extra-base hits, with 104 doubles, 20 triples and a league-leading 27 home runs. What have those equated to? A conference-best 327 runs scored -- 132 runs more than Cal has scored this season.

"I think they've got some speed," Neu said. "I think they have some guys with power. They have guys in the middle of the order that can swing it pretty well, and they also have some guys that can run. Their yard is not really that offensive. They play on turf, and obviously the weather is looking to be a little cooler, usually, and it's a tough place to hit home runs, but they have some guys in the middle of the order that are swinging the bat really well. Those guys are carrying them, and the other guys get on base. They're just a tough team. They play the game hard all the time and really make you have to beat them. They're not going to beat themselves too often."

The big sticks in the middle of the lineup are hard to miss. There's junior catcher Shaun Chase, who's slugged a league-best 12 home runs, for starters. But, while Chase is a big thumper, the key to Oregon's lineup is sophomore infielder Mitchell Tolman and senior outfielder Tyler Baumgartner. Tolman ranks 11th in the league in hitting (.330), ninth in slugging (.479), second in on-base percentage (.450), sixth in runs (40), sixth in hits (64), third in RBIs (45), first in doubles (17), eighth in walks (27) and fifth in total bases (93).

Baumgartner is second in the league in runs scored (45), fourth in hits (66), fifth in RBIs with 45, second in doubles (16) and third in triples (5).

"I think they just pressure teams a lot," Neu said. "They're big with sacrifice bunts, they're going to try and put a runner on second any time they can, so getting the leadoff hitter on is part of their game. They'll try to SAC them over, and when they do that, they can put a little pressure on the defense, because they can run a little bit, and they're really good at placing the bunt and putting pressure on. They'll run, they'll steal a little bit so they can put some pressure on you. That's kind of their game and their style."

The trio of Tolman, Baumgartner and Aaron Payne (a team-high 12 stolen bases, fifth in the Pac-12) is tied with the Oregon State threesome of Michael Conforto, Andy Peterson and Jeff Hendrix for the most runs scored in the conference.

"Their style is about trying to create some mistakes by the other team, and they've obviously done a pretty good job of that, with maximizing their runs without having to hit that much," Neu said. "You can score a run in this game with a walk, a sacrifice and all of the sudden, an error, and it's 1-0, and with their pitching, they don't have to score a whole lot of runs."

Cal counters with the sixth-best pitching staff in the league (3.53 ERA), which has posted a 3.24 ERA in conference games (fifth in the Pac-12). Over the past seven games, the Bears' starters have gone an average of 6.1 innings per start, with an ERA of 3.68 and a record of 4-2.

Behind them is a bullpen that's been worn thin, with the loss of righty Keaton Siomkin and the absence of Michael Theofanopoulos, but closer Trevor Hildenberger (16 games finished, 9 saves, 3.09 ERA in 43.2 innings) and redshirt freshman Jordan Talbot (1-0, 1.29 ERA and 2 saves) have held down the back end in admirable fashion, especially coming off a stretch of four games in four days.

"Our starters are our strength, along with Hildenberger, so the more that [the starters] can give us, the better," Neu said. "Against Arizona, we were able to show a little bit of depth, probably more than we even knew we had. That was big for us, because that won us the game a couple times with Talbot being big, and some other guys throwing some important innings for us."

Theofanopoulos threw two innings against San Francisco on Monday, and will be available this weekend, along with freshmen Alex Schick (2-1, 3.18 ERA) and Alex Martinez (1-3, 6.00).

"We've stretched out Hildenberger the most we've stretched him out all year (with 5.0 innings in a 7-6, 12-inning win against the Wildcats on Saturday), so he's not going to throw a bullpen this week," Neu said. "We'll probably have him in a similar role, where if we've got to pitch him to win a game and if we've got to stretch him out again, we will. Obviously, Talbot was huge over the weekend, and we'll probably have him in there at times to win the game. We're going to have to rely on some of those freshmen. I was glad that we had a chance to pitch some of those guys over the weekend and [Monday]. Schick will be good to go again. I thought he made some good strides the last week. Obviously, Martinez is up and down, but when he's good, he's really effective, and we'll have to use him in a spot if we need it."


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