Bullpen points 5-0 blanking of St. Mary's

Stanford's 5-0 midweek shutout over St. Mary's was especially encouraging because it finally allowed the Cardinal's bullpen to showcase its quality depth. The trio of A.J. Vanegas, Sahil Bloom and David Schmidt combined to shut down the Gaels on the road, and the result had significant implications.

There are no questions surrounding this club's offense. Entering Tuesday's contest, Stanford bats were producing an astonishing 9.4 runs per game and hitting .329 - all with the new BBCOR bats that are supposed to curtail video game-like offensive production in college baseball.

The Cardinal's starting pitching rotation isn't much of a concern either, especially after freshman John Hochstatter has emerged to form a three-headed monster at the top, alongside Mark Appel and Brett Mooneyham.

But the Stanford bullpen had been shrouded in uncertainty, especially after last year's star closer Chris Reed was taken in the MLB Draft's first round. Many analysts had pointed to the unit as this Stanford team's soft spot.

In its phenomenal performance in Moraga, however, the Cardinal bullpen was anything but a weak link.

A.J. Vanegas earned the win with five innings of sharp work, setting a new career high with five strikeouts. The sophomore, who struggled with his control to start the season and was demoted from the team's Sunday starter position after getting touched up against Vanderbilt, appears to have rediscovered the sharp slider that dives away from right-handed hitters. He also impressively blew a couple of high fastballs right past Troy Channing, St. Mary's all-time home run king.

Sahil Bloom only appeared in five games last season, but he is already impressing in 2012 with solid command and a stellar outing in Moraga. The right-handed junior scattered just two hits over three innings of crucial late-inning work, showing considerable life on his fastball as well.

"I feel that I've gained some good experience the last two years," Bloom said. "I am just excited and grateful for every opportunity to help the team win this year."

Brian Busick was solid last season with his 2.79 ERA, and he has looked good in limited action this year, as has versatile junior Dean McArdle, who escaped what was perhaps Stanford's most stressful situation of the season Sunday by striking out a Fresno State batter with the bases loaded and the Cardinal hanging on to a 5-2 lead.

But a bullpen is always defined by the man who slams the door, and it appears that freshman David Schmidt is ready to take over the reins of that role from Reed. Schmidt was solid again at St. Mary's; his ERA is a minuscule 1.00 after six appearances. More save situations will tell Mark Marquess if the youngster is the right man for the job, but his stuff definitely suggests that he can handle the role. Schmidt pounds the strike zone with a "Kevin Brown-like" fastball that registers in the low 90's on the radar gun, according to starter Brett Mooneyham.

"It's hard for guys to hit a guy who throws with foot of sink on the ball," he laughed.

Tuesday's bullpen win hinted that Stanford does in fact have the pieces to boast a strong bullpen.

"[Our performance against St. Mary's] showed that we have some significant depth in our bullpen," Bloom said. "The offense can't explode every game, and sometimes a starter won't have his best game, so it was a very encouraging sign."

This weekend's series against No. 4 Rice may be an opportunity for the Cardinal to solidify the bullpen's pivotal success.

About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.

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