The No. 22 Bears fell, 11-3, at the hands of visiting No. 15 USC on Saturday, as sophomore ace Daulton Jefferies topped last week’s season-worst performance with yet another low point in his second collegiate campaign, giving up 7 earned runs in 5.0 innings on 7 hits and one walk as the Trojans downed Cal, 11-3.
“They came out and swung the bat well today,” said Esquer.
Jefferies has now given up 12 earned runs in his last 13.0 innings of work, losing each of his last two starts. He threw 90 pitches in his outing on Saturday.
“We got him out at 90 after five, and there’s no reason to push him farther than that, when we’ve got a short week next week, and then we’ve got another big game at Oregon State,” said pitching coach Mike Neu.
The Trojans (35-16, 16-9 in Pac-12) saw starter Kyle Davis -- a two-year closer who earned a complete-game win over Stanford last week in his second start of the year – go 8.0 innings, scattering eight hits and giving up three runs, with one walk and three strikeouts, on 110 pitches.
Davis sat between 84 and 86 with his fastball, and sported a slider that sat between 76 and 78 mph, but despite the fact that he didn’t light up the radar gun, he got Cal hitters out in front – notably leadoff man Aaron Knapp -- and got early swings, as the game finished in a brisk 2:37.
“He was throwing strikes, and I don’t know that he was going to walk a whole lot of guys,” said Esquer, who saw his team average 3.6 pitches per plate appearance through the first seven innings, before a two-run bottom of the eighth keyed by an RBI triple by Devin Pearson an RBI single by Chris Paul. “It was more not being able to keep the game close enough, where it mattered. Daulton wasn’t very good.”
Jefferies was sunk by a nightmare fifth, when he saw a one-run lead for USC turn into a 7-1 margin, throwing 36 pitches and allowed three two-strike hits, followed by a two-run home run home run by first baseman Jeremy Martinez.
“He’s proven in the past that he can pitch in those spots – runners in scoring position with two outs – and in one inning, he strikes the first guy out, and then four-pitch walk a guy, and he has eight walks on the year,” Neu said of a disastrous five-run fifth that spelled the end for Jefferies. “I think they’re really just playing for one that inning. They’ve got the nine-hole guy up and he squares to bunt, and they’re probably going to drag or SAC to get the guy to second and hopefully push one across with the top of their order, but he gets him 0-2, hangs a pitch that taps in for a base hit, and then it starts rolling from there where he’s not able to make the pitches he needs to.”
The floodgates opened in the fifth when Jeffereis got ahead of hot-hitting Bobby Stahel 0-2, before Stahel fouled off three straight pitches and then singled up the middle to drive in the first run of the frame. Jefferies was clearly frustrated.
“Absolutely, he was frustrated,” Esquer said. “He was getting it handed to him a little bit. He’s not used to that. Then, home runs and doubles – things he’s not used to seeing – they happened today.”
One batter later, Jefferies shook off an 0-2 pitch call and went with a change up to Martinez, who singled to right center to drive in two. Timmy Robinson then homered to left to drive home two more.
“He missed up in the zone 0-2 to Stahel, and we’re going up, and he doesn’t get it up, and he rolls it through the middle for a base hit,” Esquer said. “On a Friday game, that could be game over if you give up two or three runs that you shouldn’t have.”
“He made some non-competitive pitches on 0-2, and let that inning get away from him,” Neu said of the fifth. “If we can hold that to one run, and it’s 2-1, or 3-1, obviously, we’re in the game, but he let that inning get away from him, and we just thought it wasn’t as competitive as an outing as we would hope for out of him. He wasn’t able to make some of those big pitches in big spots, and I thought his stuff was good enough. It just wasn’t a competitive enough outing for him. I thought he had pretty good stuff and could have given us the opportunity to win.”
USC added three more runs in the top of the seventh against reliever Collin Monsour, who gave up two straight second-pitch, one-out groundball singles before surrendering an RBI double inside the third base bag to Martinez, a sacrifice fly to right by Robinson and a first-pitch line-drive single by second baseman Dante Flores.
The Bears got 1.0 inning of relief from righty Keaton Siomkin, who’d missed the bulk of the season and all of last season with Tommy John surgery. He allowed one hit and one unearned run, facing five batters in the eighth, topping out at 87 with his fastball, an encouraging sign.
“I thought he did fine,” Neu said. “He’s getting better and better, and it’s going to take a little time. It’s going to take a couple outings for him to get his stuff back, but it was good to get him out there with two weeks left. Hopefully, we can get him another outing next week, and then be ready to play a role for us in the playoffs.”
All but one starter for the Trojans registered at least one base-hit, while the bulk of the Cal offense stood with Pearson (3-for-4, R, RBI, 3B) and Paul (2-for-3, RBI, BB, SB).
The Bears fell to 31-17 overall on the season, and 15-10 in Pac-12 play. Jefferies took the loss – his second straight – and dropped to 5-4. Davis moved his record to 3-1 on the season.
“They took advantage of us playing one of our worst games of the year, I thought, overall,” said Neu.
Cal had two men on with two outs in the bottom of the first, but on a wild pitch from Davis on a 1-1 count to Mitchell Kranson, Pearson tried to score from second, something that Esquer had not seen in his entire tenure at Cal. Pearson took a wide turn at third, slipped, and after a rundown, he was tagged out at third on a 2-5-1-5-6 play.
“We got thrown out at third base. I’ve been here 15, 16 years, and I don’t think I’ve seen one two-base advance on a wild pitch, and we got thrown out trying to look for a two-base advance, and I’ve never seen it,” Esquer said. “I’ve never seen it in practice. Game or practice, I’ve never had a team that has advanced two bases on a wild pitch, and we got thrown out trying to look for two bases.”
Cal and USC go back at it on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Evans Diamond, with righty Ryan Mason on the hill. Last time against the Trojans, Mason tossed a complete game on May 11 of last season in a 4-1 win at Dedeaux Field. Sunday will also serve as Senior Day, as the Bears honor Paul, Chris Muse-Fisher and closer Dylan Nelson.
“As is typical in Pac-12 games, tomorrow has nothing to do with today,” Esquer said. “Sometimes, on a Friday, it can get away from you a little bit, because when the game gets out of hand, you’re not bringing in your best relievers. You’re just trying to get through the game. I expect Mason to come out and throw a good game. They’re a tough lineup, though. It’s probably the most balanced lineup in the league, offensively. There’s no doubt: They are the most balanced.”