Series at a Glance
Friday, 6 p.m.: RHP Ryan Mason (4-1, 2.32 ERA) vs. LHP Cole Irvin (2-2, 2.40)
Saturday, 2 p.m.: TBD vs. LHP Matt Krook (1-1, 4.23)
Sunday, 12 p.m.: LHP Matt Ladrech (3-1, 3.18) vs. TBD
Radio: KALX 90.7 FM
Watch: OREGON LIVE STREAM
Notes: Oregon has lost four of six, but beat Portland 10-1 on Wednesday ... Cal took two of three from the Ducks last year in Berkeley ... All-time, the series is tied, 24-24.
California -- ranked No. 9 by Baseball America, No. 11 in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll and D1Baseball, and No. 10 in the NCBWA poll -- is in a bit of a pitching pickle, as it heads into a weekend set with Oregon at PK Park in Eugene.
Projected first-round draft pick Daulton Jefferies (6-0, 1.29 ERA) will miss his second consecutive start with stiffness in his lower right leg, and ace closer Erik Martinez, who came into last weekend against UCLA with seven straight saves in seven tries, and a 0.66 ERA. He's 0-1 in his last two outings, with a blown save, allowing five runs -- all earned -- on six hits and a walk, with one hit batter, two doubles and one home run surrendered, with just two strikeouts, after having struck out 19 in his previous 13.2 innings of work.
In his first 13.2 innings, Martinz allowed just two doubles, and no home runs.
"He was our best guy, and he's got the confidence of our whole team," said head coach David Esquer. "If we're going to go down, we'll go down with him."
All of the sudden, the Bears' bulletproof closer is looking vulnerable, with righty reliever Alex Schick still more than a week away (he won't be making the trip), and just when Cal needs to shorten games the most.
"That's seven innings a weekend that we probably don't have, so we've got to cover that seven innings, and we felt that a little bit [Tuesday] when you have those seven innings that you don't have [from the weekend]," Esquer said. "We're in no hurry for him. Last year, it happened, and he had to miss a couple starts, and we ended up one pitcher stronger, because we developed somebody in crunch time. It helped us down the stretch. It's not ideal, but everyone's going through that around the league."
The Bears (18-7, 7-2 in Pac-12) had to do without Jefferies for a lengthy stretch last season, from March 13 through April 2, during which Cal went 3-1, and then-freshman Jeff Bain went 2-1 with a 3.47 ERA over the first four series of Pac-12 play.
Bain has had his struggles this year, though, going through a three-game stretch where he allowed 5 earned runs in 6.1 innings, giving up 11 hits. Bain's last outing was encouraging, as he went 6.1 innings and scattered eight hits, allowing two runs with one walk and one strikeout against the Bruins last Saturday. It wasn't pretty, but it was a win.
Esquer has left Saturday's starting slot open, but will lead off the series with righty Ryan Mason, who went on less than 15 minutes' notice in place of Jefferies last Friday, and spun a gem. The 6-foot-6 righty has gone 2-0 in his last two starts, going 16.0 innings, and allowing just one run on 10 hits, with three walks and 14 strikeouts.
On Sunday, lefty Matt Ladrech (3-1, 3.18 ERA) will take the hill, after back-to-back solid outings. In his second relief appearance since losing the Sunday starting gig, Ladrech tossed 7.2 hitless innings, striking out two and walking one, and then he finished off UCLA with a grind-it-out 6.2-inning, 95-pitch outing, allowing nine hits and one run with three walks and two strikeouts.
Oregon (12-11, 2-4) will counter with a trio of left-handed starters against a very left-handed lineup for the Bears. Unofficially, against left-handed pitchers this season, the Bears are 63-for-263 (.240), but the last time they faced a lefty-heavy staff (Duke), Cal went 14-for-49 (.286).
"They've got three left-handed starters that are really solid, and they're going to make you beat them," Esquer said. "You can't fall asleep on them. The games are fairly low-scoring. They just haven't been on the winning end, recently, but those things flip with one mistake. If you give them a crack, they can open it wide. They've got some shut-down pitching."
The Ducks will start big sophomore David Peterson (2-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. against Mason. The 6-foot-6, 242-pounder holds a sparkling 1.42 ERA (fourth in the Pac-12) and a .202 batting average against (12th). Peterson has also hit six batters (T5), but allowed just 22 hits (8th in the Pac-12), and just eight total runs (five earned), two doubles (T4) and has yet to allow a home run. The Ducks are fifth in the league in home runs allowed (11).
As a team, Oregon allows just 7.1 hits per game -- 14th fewest in all of college baseball, and the Ducks' 3.07 team ERA ranks third in the Pac-12 and 27th in the nation.
The Bears rank first in the league in long balls, led by reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Brett Cumberland (recently named a mid-season All-American by Perfect Game USA, along with Jefferies), who leads the Pac-12 in batting (.410), slugging percentage (.859), on-base percentage (.535), RBIs (28), home runs (10) and total bases (67). Of his 10 home runs, though (the next-highest total in the Pac-12 is 5), Cal's switch-hitting catcher has just one from the right side.
Cal's other big slugger -- third baseman Mitchell Kranson -- is left-handed, and 15th in the league in hitting, with a .333 average over 24 games, is sixth in the Pac-12 in slugging (.556), fourth in doubles (10) and seventh in total bases (55). Nick Halamandaris -- another lefty -- is hitting .314, with non doubles (fifth in the conference). Left-handed hitting two-man Aaron Knapp has finally started rounding into form, hitting .321 over the last eight games (9-for-28) with six RBIs, two triples and five stolen bases.
After Peterson, the Ducks will pit redshirt junior Cole Irvin (2-2) against a yet-to-be-announced hurler (likely Bain) on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Irvin sports a 2.40 ERA, with a .232 batting average against in 48.2 innings of work (the third-most innings pitched in the league). His ERA is 11th in the league (just behind Mason's 2.32), and he is fourth in the league with 11 hitters struck out looking, and tied for fourth for the most Ks in the conference (46).
Matt Krook (1-1) is likely Saturday's starter, and is tied for seventh in the league in strikeouts (38), and despite a 4.23 ERA, boasts a .188 batting average against, sixth-lowest in the league. Where Krook's been hurt has been walks. Krook has allowed a Pac-12 leading 21 free passes this season, and has hit six batters in seven appearances (six starts) -- tied for the second-most in the league.
Offensively, Oregon has lost a lot of teeth from a year ago. The Ducks are 266th in the nation (out of 295 teams) in on-base percentage (.321),
Gone are Mitchell Tolman, who hit .325 with 20 doubles, 42 RBIs and a .457 OBPwith 11 stolen bases in 17 attempts in 62 games last season, and Scott Heineman, who swiped 16 bases on 22 attempts, hit .290 in 50 games, and was drafted by the Texas Rangers. Senior Phil Craig-St. Louis is back, but after hitting .296 last year in 62 games, with eight doubles and 38 RBIs, he's played in just 19 of 23 games this year, and started just 14, hitting .150.
As a team, the Ducks are hitting .210. Only three teams in Division I are worse, offensively. Until the last two games, no Duck with over 53 at-bats was hitting better than .260, but over the last three games, leadoff man Austin Grebeck has gone 4-for-11, boosting his average to .274. He paces Oregon in on-base percentage (.404), batting average, slug gin (.357), triples (3) and hits (23).
"You've got to keep their leadoff hitter off base," Esquer said. "You've got to play defense, because they can try to speed up the game on you a little bit, if the leadoff guy gets on -- bunt, hit-and-run. This league, there is not one easy weekend. They're all independent, and this is going to be a real challenge for us, on the road."