In an opening weekend which did not lack for offensive fireworks, Kruger made the biggest flash. The biggest splash, too with a home run in Mississippi State’s shortened 15-5 rout of South Dakota State. Kruger’s Sunday shot completed a Diamond Dog debut weekend worth talking about.
Even if the man himself was a touch low-key about it all.
“I feel pretty good,” Kruger shrugged. “There’s not much more to it. I feel pretty good.”
If this was ‘pretty good’ one wonders what counts for great? All Kruger did in his first action at Mississippi State was lead the lineup in hitting with a .563 average. Kruger went 9-of-16 at the dish for four games…though his immediate focus was on the one contest where he didn’t deliver.
“The last AB I think things got a little squirrely,” he said, adding he wanted to look at it on video again. “But overall I feel good at the plate.”
The average was one thing. Kruger’s real feat was what he did with those contact. He drove in nine runs, this while batting towards the top of the order remember. And if Kruger wasn’t sending teammates across the plate, he himself was scoring…eight times. Because beyond hitting his way on, Kruger earned four walks in as many games.
“He can really hit,” Coach John Cohen said. “We’ve known that since he showed up here.”
Now it’s not like Kruger just ‘showed up’ at Dudy Noble Field. The junior transfer was a prime recruiting target last year to give Bulldog base ball boosts with both his bat and his mitt. The Calabasas, Cal., native was rated highly enough to sign with Oregon where in 2014 he played 28 games. He opted to spend 2015 in junior college, at Orange Coast College, for the chance to be an every-game player. Kruger has a California Community College state championship to show for it.
Now back on the senior college level, Kruger is demonstrating the plate prowess that caught recruiters’ eyes. In his opening-night game he went 3-of-5 with a couple of doubles and two RBI, and he scarcely slowed from there. By the Sunday afternoon-time Cohen began running in alternates to at, Kruger had hit his fifth double to go with the longball.
“I felt good,” he agreed. Though, Kruger added, “I think as a team we’ve been swinging it really well, and I would expect that to continue.”
Yes, a .356 club average would be worth maintaining over a long season. Kruger wasn’t the only hot hitter, nor the lone extra-base batter. The Bulldogs tallied no less than 20 doubles (out of 52 total hits) in the four games, and rookie Luke Alexander had the honor of swatting the first home run of 2016 with a solo shot in the opener.
“Offensively we have some guys swinging really well,” Cohen said. “I think we’re a much-improved offensive club.” With, Kruger said, room for further improvement. The DH wasn’t satisfied with all the game-three fly balls for one thing, and believes the Bulldogs could have been more efficient in some advantage counts.
But for one weekend? Yeah, this was a look at what Mississippi State’s offense ought be capable of.
“For sure,” Kruger said. “Remember, for the last seven months we’ve been playing each other so there’s always going to be a learning curve with all of that. IT’s just kind of the way baseball goes sometimes. But no one in that locker room is worried about what’s to come. It’s the game of baseball, I think we play it pretty well.”
Much as he enjoys the hitting, Kruger still itches to put the rest of his game into action. He’s a catcher, remember. DHing is well-and-good but Kruger can’t wait to pull on the armor and get behind the plate. He has to wait due to an arm issue though.
“He’s a very good defensive catcher who can’t throw right now,” Cohen said. “He’s about 50% throwing and if we get back by SEC play it really gives us some flexibility. Now he’s DHing and really swinging it well.”
Now the sooner Kruger has his chance to sling it? So much the better.
“They told me whenever I’m ready, so it’s obviously pending. All our catchers have the ability to play outstanding so it’s not automatic. That’s something that’s going to be earned. But they said let us know when you’re ready.”