After losing six of seven to inferior competition, the Farm Boys (14-9) have won three of four, with a 3-0, 9-3, 5-8 series win in Pullman preceding Monday's Bay Area thriller. Monday's 4-3 victory over California came on a night Stanford's three errors outnumbered its hits. Consider it partial poetic justice for the tough-luck, 15-strikeout complete game loss Mark Appel suffered against UNLV March 8.
Mark Marquess hasn't seen an offensive explosion out of his club by any stretch of the imagination, but Stanford has finally started registering precision that counts. A team starved of situational hitting has been treated to significant doses of it lately. Dominic Jose's sacrifice fly turned out to be the winning difference against the Bears. Clutch knocks are coming, too, with Slater's bomb an energizing microcosm of Stanford's offensive effort so far this year.
Initially thrust into the starting lineup because of Austin Wilson's elbow injury, Slater is doing the heavy lifting for the Cardinal offense. At .321 with an .879 OPS, he's leading the team in most offensive categories a year after seeing only three at-bats. Naturally an infielder, Slater has also adapted to filling the other Austin's role in right field.
"He's done a great job and worked really hard," Marquess said. "He's hitting for power, but he'll actually hit for more power. He's just learning to use his power."
Austin Wilson Update
Slater's success means that he'll certainly remain in a starting spot even when Wilson returns, which could happen as soon as this coming weekend. Marquess said that Wilson, a junior who's been out since injuring his elbow in the season opener at Rice, is week to week, with another doctor's appointment coming within the next few days.
"He feels much better, and that's the big part," Marquess said. "Maybe he'll be able to go with us to USC this weekend. I think we're that close."
Wilson's presence in Stanford's lineup could only help the struggling unit. Despite plating 17 runs in their most successful offensive series of the season at Washington State, the Cardinal are itching for more power at the plate. A year after blasting 49 balls out of the park, they've hit only eight home runs on the year, on pace for their lowest long-ball output in several decades. The team's paltry .249 average hopes for a boost when it faces the Pac-12's worst pitching staff this weekend, with USC's combined ERA a disastrous 4.96.
Stanford pitching, meanwhile, is acquitting itself well despite a shaky situation beyond Mark Appel on Friday. The Cardinal's 2.54 ERA trails only Oregon State in the conference, though Marquess is still fighting with youthful inconsistency on the back end of his rotation. Freshmen Bobby Zarubin and Marcus Brakeman both labored through their starts this past weekend.
"We pitched as freshmen do sometimes," Marquess said. "Zarubin wasn't as consistent as he has been. Brakeman is a bit off mechanically, but [pitching coach Rusty] Filter will get him straightened out. Freshmen will be inconsistent, but they have good arms."
As Shortstops Shuffle, Catchers Lead the Way
Given the struggles of Stanford's offense, Marquess has recently elected to start Drew Jackson over Lonnie Kauppila at shortstop to infuse freshman's speed into the attack. Jackson reached first base on a wild pitch after striking out Monday to spark the three-run rally capped off by Slater's home run. Marquess says that he plans to decide on a day-to-day basis between Jackson and Kauppila, whose defense has been superb.
On a side note, catcher Wayne Taylor's average has climbed to .265 after a brutal early-season slump. He's also leading regular starters with a .403 on-base percentage after several clutch hits in Pullman this weekend. Stanford's other featured catcher, Brant Whiting, leads the team with a .394 average and .485 on-base percentage through 36 plate appearance. Now, the rest of the Cardinal bats hope to follow suit.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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