Midweek baseball update

Stanford baseball took two out of three games in its Pac-12 opening series against USC at Sunken Diamond, but there are causes for concern as the 15-3 Cardinal head into what is possibly the regular season's marquee series in Tucson.

For one, the Stanford offense has cooled off considerably since its hot start. After getting shut out by Rice before the two-week finals break, the Cardinal didn't score a legitimate run until their dramatic ninth-inning rally against USC in the conference opener. That was a 17-plus inning offensive outage for Stanford.

The good news, though, is that the team's clutch gene reappeared in just the right time to preserve another series victory. Kenny Diekroeger has emerged as the team's most disciplined situational hitter, and he tied Sunday's first game with a two-strike sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning, setting up Austin Wilson's walk-off blast. That's the second walk-off and third game-winning home run for the Cardinal in only 18 games this year.

Then, it was the defense. Lonnie Kauppila's spectacular barehanded double play relay helped preserve Stanford's 3-2 victory in the second game of the doubleheader. Getaway day, though, saw the opposite happen: Kauppila's five errors led to the majority of USC's seven unearned runs, and the Trojans left the Bay Area with an 8-4 victory.

In normal, non-windy conditions, the Cardinal probably win Monday's game against soft-hitting USC, despite the comedy of mistakes. Jake Stewart hit the hardest ball that I've seen not get out of Sunken Diamond. The potential jack, along with three runs, were pushed back by the gusting wind.

Still, Stanford is fortunate to be able to schedule a game Wednesday versus St. Mary's to make up for a rained-out Tuesday contest at UC Davis and get back on track. The team practiced all day Tuesday in rainy conditions (no school this week with spring break) in lieu of their postponed game, and Kauppila has to regain his defensive confidence Wednesday before this weekend's clash of conference favorites in Tucson (Friday, 6 p.m., kzsulive.stanford.edu, 90.1 FM).

To conclude this week's Stanford baseball report, I had a conversation with outfielder Tyler Gaffney yesterday:

You've really been playing well lately as far as getting on base goes (team lead in runs, walks and .500 OBP), but the thing that really stands out is the fact that you've gotten hit by pitches nine times. Is it starting to hurt?

You know, you can't let it hurt, otherwise you'll start to get out of the way. You've gotta let it become a reaction to not move. If they throw it at you, that's the pitcher's problem, you've gotta stay in there and take your base.

You're getting on base 50 percent of the time. That means that the swing has to be feeling pretty good too, right?

I'm definitely starting to improve on my swing. There are lot of things coming out of football that I have to work on. Things are piecing together though and I'm feeling more comfortable with the strike zone.

You're such a weapon when you do get on base because you literally have a running back's speed. You picked up your first two steals of the season Sunday. Do you feel that you're getting your timing down in that phase of the game?

That's something you definitely have to get comfortable with. You have to trust your instincts when you're on the base path. You know, not being out here five, six months out of the year really hinders that. The time that I've been out here working with the coaches, I've gotten a lot more comfortable. I think it really showed [Sunday].

Your aggressiveness out there on the bases has really been something. You scored from third on Kenny Diekroeger's foul popup Sunday. It was a very rare play. Take me through it from your perspective.

I saw the catcher leave, and I assumed he was going to come back and cover home plate [after USC's first baseman called him off.] He didn't, and that left it as a race between me and the catcher to get to home plate. And I'm taking my odds over a guy with gear on any day.

You have been hit by pitches nine times, and you take some abuse running the ball for the football team. What's worse, getting hit by Shayne Skov, or getting plunked by a 95-mile per hour fastball?

You know, Shayne's one of my buddies, so I'm going to go give one to him. It's worse to get tackled by him [laugh].

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.

Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!

The Bootleg Top Stories