SERIES AT A GLANCE
All games televised on Pac-12 Networks Bay Area and broadcast on 90.7 FM KALX
Friday, 3 p.m. at Evans Diamond: RHP, Soph., Daulton Jefferies (3-1, 2.20 ERA) vs. RHP, Soph., Brett Hanewich (1-3, 3.79)
NOTE: All Staff and Faculty with valid ID can gain admission for just $1.
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at Evans Diamond: RHP, Jr., Ryan Mason (4-1, 3.14) vs. TBA
NOTE: The first 250 fans to Saturday's 7:30 pm game against the Cardinal will receive a free California mug
Sunday, 2 p.m., at Evans Diamond: LHP, Fr., Matt Ladrech (5-3, 2.13) vs. TBA
NOTE: Cal Kids' Day, Strikeout Cancer Day presented by The Lawrence Hall of Science
BERKELEY -- Across the right side of Daulton Jefferies nose, there’s a thin, y-shaped scar. You can’t see it from home plate, when he’s on the mound, glove hiding all but the cold lumps of coal beneath his brow. That scar may look small, but the baseball bat that caused it wasn’t.
“I got hit in the face with a bat when I was seven-years old,” Jefferies says.
The meeting of face and aluminum required a 14-day hospital stay, and reconstructive plastic surgery.
“I couldn’t open my eyes for nine days,” says Jefferies.
Anything that has happened or can happen on a baseball field, then, or even in recruiting, can’t faze him. And when Stanford – No. 14 California's opponent this weekend – decided that Jefferies wasn’t worth the time they’d spent recruiting him, Jefferies – who’d been committed to the Cardinal for seven months - knew right where to turn.
“I couldn’t tell you a definite answer,” says Jefferies, about why the Cardinal wound up rescinding his scholarship offer. “Everyone was getting their early applications, and I hadn’t gotten mine yet, so I called, and they referred me to the head coach [Mark Marquess], so I called the head coach, and he just said it wasn’t going to work out, and if I needed any recommendations or anything, to let him know, and that was that.”
“When he committed to Stanford,” says Cal pitching coach Mike Neu, “I said, ‘Daulton, congratulations. If anything changes, and I’m sure it won’t, just call me right away,’ and I didn’t anticipate anything changing. Why? He was the No. 1 recruit on our board, and he was going to Stanford. We felt like it’s a done deal. We’re going to be playing against him for three years, and he’s got a chance to be great.”
Jefferies, fresh off his Stanford rebuff, and down in San Diego for a baseball tournament the July before his senior year, picked up the phone and called Neu.
“He’s the ultimate competitor. Very athletic, right up my alley,” says Neu. “That’s what I’m recruiting: Athletic competitors, and he was right up my alley. When they told him they weren’t going to be able to get him in, or whatever the case was, he emailed me, immediately, and we set up a trip the next week. We offered him, and shortly after, he committed, and we were really excited about that, because he was the No. 1 recruit on our board at that time, as a two-way guy.”
And now, Jefferies has fulfilled his promise on the mound. The former shortstop fields his position as well as any pitcher in the nation, and is arguably one of the top Friday-night starters in the conference.
After a strong freshman campaign that saw Jefferies post a 3.45 ERA as the Friday-night starter, earning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honors after shutting out then-No. 10 Texas in his college debut, Jefferies started 2015 by going 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA, posting 29 strikeouts to 8 walks.
Jefferies then went down with biceps tendonitis after the Chicago State series, missing the first four weekends of conference play. Now, he’s back, and it’s no coincidence that his first start will be against the Cardinal.
The Bears (21-9, 8-4 in Pac-12) will send Jefferies to the hill on Friday at 3 p.m. against Stanford (12-18, 0-9), and Jefferies wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think he marks that date on calendar,” head coach David Esquer, himself a Stanford alumnus, says of Jefferies, starting for the first time since March 6. “I think that’s something for him, that he really wants to maybe prove that they made a mistake. That’s something that he’s made a point of: He wants to prove that they made a mistake.”
“The goal was to be back for Stanford,” Jefferies says. “It was beneficial that I didn’t pitch two weekends ago, because I got my arm more healthy, a little bit more rest. One of the reasons why I picked Cal was so that I could pitch against Stanford.”
Jefferies’ first appearance back from biceps tendonitis saw him strike out five in 3.0 innings of relief last Saturday, with his secondary pitches looking as good as they have all season.
“It felt really good,” Jefferies says. “I didn’t throw any breaking balls in the bullpen, so it was nice to have it in my back pocket, to just be able to pitch, have Mike call pitches and throw. They’ve stayed consistent, too.”
He will be on a 60-pitch count on Friday, with the possibility of freshman Jeff Bain -- who's gone 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 23.1 innings of work during Jefferies' absence -- coming on in relief to finish things out. Before Bain was thrust into a starting role, he tossed 3.1 scoreless innings of relief, allowing no hits and striking out three.
“It makes us stronger, having him back in the rotation, and having Bain as an extra reliever, and a potential midweek starter, who did amazing in those situations,” Neu said. “We lost a couple midweek games while Jefferies was out, and I think that’s more where we felt it, not having Bain in the midweeks and out of the bullpen. We’re definitely more at full strength, but you’ve still got to make your pitches, and you’ve still got to compete.”
The series this weekend marks the midway point in the conference season for Cal, and the Bears are on pace for more than 16 conference wins – something that both Esquer and Neu said they would have been surprised about before the season, given the injuries they’ve incurred.
“I would have said we were about a year away,” Neu said.
Stanford came into the season coming off a Super Regional appearance in 2014, and was ranked at No. 33 in preseason polls. The Cardinal had the potential No. 1 overall draft pick at the head of their rotation in Cal Quantrill. They had one of the most athletic outfielders in the conference in Zach Hoffpauir.
California came into the season unranked, unheralded, with freshmen starting at catcher and shortstop – arguably the two most difficult positions on the diamond – with a sophomore ace and a freshman starting on Sundays.
The tables, as they say, have turned.
“It’s experience, and having a guy that has that experience leading off a weekend, and I think they have pitchers that they believe in, that will eventually be weekend contributors, but they’re gaining that experience on the fly,” said Esquer, who could easily have said that about the pitching rotation the last two years. “That trial by fire, in our league, can be tough, and a little unmerciful, but we went through it last year with our field players. At some point in the year, it starts to turn.”
While injuries to Jefferies, starting second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz and starting right fielder Devin Pearson have not slowed the Bears down at all, the Cardinal have seen a wrist injury sideline Hoffpauir for 23 games (he’s currently hitting just .154), and Quantrill (2-0, 1.93) go down for the season with Tommy John surgery after just three starts.
Stanford has not a single win in conference play (0-9). According to school records dating back to 1959, the worst Cardinal conference start in history was in 1977, when Stanford started Pac-8 play 0-6, before taking two out of three from the Bears.
The most consecutive conference games Stanford had lost up to this point in its history was in 1980, when the Cardinal started conference play 2-0, only to lose the next seven straight.
The Cardinal are currently dead last in the Pac-12 standings, and rank second-to-last in batting average (.241) and ERA (4.93).
“I haven’t watched anything, I haven’t seen anything, I don’t want to see anything, because it’s baseball,” says Jefferies. “You can’t go by record on how a team’s going to play, because once you do that, and you get a little comfortable, then they take advantage of your mistakes. You’ve just got to play one pitch at a time, and you don’t play against the opponent. You play against the game.”
That’s what happened last weekend against Washington State, when the Bears dropped two of three for the first time since the season opener against Duke.
The Bears (21-9, 8-4 in Pac-12) are fourth in the conference, off to the best overall start in Esquer’s tenure, and, before a toe-stubbing series loss to the Cougars – were in a second-place tie. With Jefferies out, Bain came on to start those four Friday night conference games quite ably. Key middle reliever Keaton Siomkin hasn’t thrown a pitch, as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but true freshman Erik Martinez and displaced sophomore starter Alex Schick have filled in with aplomb, sporting a combined 2.38 ERA in 34.0 innings of work out of the bullpen.
Switch-hitting true freshman catcher Brett Cumberland is hitting .295 with a .568 slugging percentage, 6 home runs and 26 RBIs. True freshman shortstop Preston GrandPre has exceeded all expectations, hitting .284 with 18 RBIs and 19 runs scored at the bottom of the lineup.
Sophomore third baseman Lucas Erceg is making a push for conference player of the year, hitting .353 with a conference-leading 8 home runs and 75 total bases – good for third in the Pac-12 – to go along with a team-leading 27 RBIs, good for fourth in the conference.
While the Bears lead the league with 31 home runs – nine more than all of last season – Stanford has just eight. Two of those 31 bombs Cal has put over the wall came from Cumberland the last time he faced the Cardinal, in an 11-1 slugfest win for the Bears at Sunken Diamond.
Sunday, Stanford will be facing the same pitcher they faced in the rivals’ first match-up – freshman lefty Matt Ladrech (5-3, 2.13 ERA), who made his first collegiate start against the Cardinal in that 11-1 romp.
“I think, with those types of pitchers, he’s a style pitcher, really,” Esquer said. “He’s got to be good with his style. I don’t know that it makes a huge advantage. Sometimes, it works the opposite ways, where a pitcher will just have someone’s number. That’ what we’re hoping for, and they’re hoping that, you see somebody once, you make big adjustments, so he’s not as good the next time. In the old days of the Six Pac, you saw everybody twice. You saw every starter twice, at home and on the road. That’s not a huge concern.”
“If you’re going to be a good pitcher, you’re going to have to get guys out more than once,” Neu says. “I think he’s competitive. He throws strikes. He’s able to execute pitches, he makes adjustments. It’s baseball. You never know what’s going to happen, but I think at this point, we have confidence in him. That was a huge win for us on [Saturday, against Washington State]. You need a stopper to stop the bleeding, because you can’t drop three in a row against teams that we feel like we’d like to win. He comes in and stops it, and that was huge. He’s proven that he’s capable of pitching in big games, and winning big games. We’re just going to go at them, and see what happens.”