California freshman righty Jared Horn didn't have his best stuff on Friday against Washington. His command over his fastball and curveball flitted in and out. Still, he ground through 7.0 innings against veteran Huskies starter Noah Bremer -- who's started 41 games in a three-year career studded with two All-Pac-12 honorable mention nods and a Freshman All-American selection to his name.
Horn, though, wasn't quite ready to finish, giving up a one-out RBI single to third baseman Willie MacIver and a two-out, two-run home run to designated hitter Nick Kahle in the bottom of the eighth in a 5-2 loss to Washington.
"He's our Friday guy, and I thought he pitched a really gutty, a gutty game," head coach David Esquer said. "He did a nice job of keeping us in there, and he wasn't able to put guys away when he had them down in the count, and he started a couple rallies with leadoff walks. He was going against as polished a Friday starter as there is in our league, and we're 2-2 into the eighth."
Not finishing was a theme for Horn on Friday. He surrendered a full-count, two-out home run to M.J. Hubbs in the bottom of the first, and, after freshman shortstop Cameron Eden tied things up with a one-out RBI single in the top of the third, gave up a 2-2, two-out single to catcher Joey Morgan.
Horn got ahead of six batters 0-2 on the night, but only recorded two outs, allowing two walks and a single, while MacIver reached on an error in the first.
The first run Horn allowed -- Hubbs's solo shot -- came on a full count.
"[Command] was not there all the time, but I think the thing that you know is going to get better is, he is going to be able to put hitters away, when he gets them down," Esquer said. "The two times he got beat, he had the hitters down, and they just stayed in the at-bat for six or seven pitches."
The Bears tied things up in the top of the sixth, when freshman first baseman Andrew Vaughn slugged his Pac-12-leading 12th home run over the right field wall, a victory considering the fact that Cal came into the weekend 4-14 away from Evans Diamond. It wasn't quite enough, though, as the Bears stranded 7 runners, and went 4-for-14 in advancement opportunities, including a strikeout by Max Flower while trying to lay down a bunt with a man on first in the top of the seventh.
Vaughn, himself, was the victim of some bad luck in the top of the eighth. With sophomore right fielder Jeffrey Mitchell aboard with his second leadoff hit -- a single up the third base line -- Vaughn, hitting .363 on the season, sent a 3-2 rocket up the middle. With Mitchell running as Bremer delivered, second baseman Levi Jordan -- one of the best-fielding infielders in the nation -- broke to the second base bag, bringing him right in line with Vaughn's scorcher. He scooped up the grounder, tagged Mitchell and threw to first for a double play. Instead of having two men on with no outs, third baseman Denis Karas came up with no men on and two outs, and promptly grounded out to Jordan to end the threat.
"We're gaining on it, for sure," Esquer said of his youthful team's maturation on the road. "I think it was a better ballgame. We made a couple subtle mistakes that are going to cost us, and quite frankly, didn't have much luck. We're moving the runner, 3-1, with Vaughn up, in the eighth, and he hits it right at him, and the guy makes a great play. I'm not sure if the runner wasn't moving, that it would have gotten through, or whether it would just have been on the other side of the second baseman, had he not been running. That was just bad luck right there."
Still, Esquer wanted to see if Horn -- who will be the centerpiece of the Cal rotation for the next two years -- could carry the young Bears.
Esquer was bitten by removing Horn early during a 9-5 loss to UCLA on March 24, when the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder had allowed just one earned run in four-plus innings. Horn walked the leadoff man in the fifth that night in Westwood, and with 70 pitches, Esquer went to Zayne Patino, who allowed a two-run home run to Nick Valaika, sparking a Bruins comeback.
Sitting on 106 pitches headed into the eighth, Horn issued a seven-pitch walk to Hubbs, who was sacrificed to second by Morgan. MacIver ripped a first-pitch single through the right side to break the tie. Horn struck out first baseman John Naff, but Kahle, after getting down 0-1, watched Horn miss with three straight offerings. He fouled off three straight pitches before slugging his third home run of the season.
"The home run by Hubbs early on, he backs him in the corner, is at 3-2 for a while, and gets beat on a challenge fastball. And, Kahle, to his credit, he hung in the at-bat," Esquer said. "Jared was into his pitch count at about 118 pitches, but he hung in there. He got him on the ninth pitch of the at-bat."
Redshirt junior Andrew Buckley came on and recorded the final out of the eighth with a grounder to second.
Junior second baseman Preston GrandPre went 3-for-4 in the six-hole to pace the Cal offense, while freshman catcher Korey Lee threw out a runner and went 2-for-3 starting behind the plate for Tyrus Greene, who took a partial day off as the designated hitter. Greene went 0-for-4. Mitchell, the two-place hitter, went 2-for-4. The 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup, though, went just 1-for-11.
Horn set career-highs in pitches (128) and innings pitched (7.2), scattering seven hits, while walking four and striking out three, with one balk. He retired the Huskies in order in the sixth and the seventh, and at one point retired seven straight Washington hitters.
"If we're going to commit to his development, we're going to leave him in the fire a little longer, and let him see," Esquer said. "Maybe, the next time, if he gets behind, you go get him, but let's find out what happens, right? You don't know what's going to happen until it happens. You know, obviously, we could have managed it and kept [the deficit] at one, but I committed to find out what is he going to do in the fire.
"The decision is to develop Jared, and give him some opportunities in those spots, but once the runner got to second, that's a time, in the future, where you'll say, 'Let's get somebody fresh in there and let's stop this and try to hold it to one.' You can try to manage and hold it to one, but in that case, when a guy hits a two-run homer to make it three, to be honest, you're chalking it up to your development plan costing you two more runs."
Cal out-hit Washington 10-7, but Bremer was just too good, and too efficient. He allowed 2 earned runs over 8.0 innings, striking out 5 and walking one on 116 pitches. He started the game by getting first-pitch strikes on 18 straight hitters, and finished with 27 first-pitch strikes against 31 batters he faced. Bremer moved to 4-2 on the season, and lowered his ERA to 2.40.
"In a lot of ways we played a better game, and played a better Friday game on the road, playing against a legitimate Friday starter," Esquer said. "I think we did a decent job of doing what we do. We're aggressive hitters, and we out-him them tonight. They just beat us on achievement. They bunt a guy up, get a base hit and a guy gets a nine-pitch homer off of our Friday guy.
"I'm looking at the positive stuff: Vaughn came on the road and hit a home run, and we're 2-2 and Jared Horn is getting stronger as we go. He was better in the fourth-fifth-sixth innings than he was in the first, second and third. We're playing on the road and our starter is getting stronger and we made some better defensive plays in the middle of the game for him. I saw there were things that were coming together, that we were doing well, and it just did not go our way. Maybe the good Lord is going to make us really earn it, when we finally get over that hump, because when we're getting ready to get on top of them, we had that bad luck on our best hitter, our No. 3 hitter, on a 3-2 count with the runner moving, and he hits it right to where they're going."
The Bears (19-20, 11-8 in Pac-12) and Huskies (23-16, 9-7) go at it again on Saturday at 2 p.m., with sophomore righty Joey Matulovich (4-1, 5.13 ERA) going against freshman righty Jordan Jones (4-5, 3.33), who allowed 2 runs or fewer in 8 of his first 11 appearances this season. He's now appeared in 13 games, with 5 starts. He's allowed 53 hits and 17 walks in 54.0 innings of work, striking out 33 and allowing the most home runs on the Washington staff (3). Cal leads the Pac-12 in home runs, with 34.