Fresno State Preview

The Stanford Cardinal baseball team takes their show on the road this weekend as they battle the Fresno State Bulldogs in a three-game series. The Cardinal is off to a 3-0 start after their impressive season-opening sweep of Cal State Fullerton last weekend. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs, despite a 30-29 record last year, are looking for a return to the NCAA Tournament. Read on for a full series preview.

(#6) Stanford  at  Fresno State

Friday - 6:35pm
Saturday - 1:05pm
Sunday - 1:05pm

The 6th ranked Stanford Cardinal open their road schedule this weekend as they travel to the Central Valley to take on the Fresno State Bulldogs in a three-game series.  The Cardinal is coming off a sweep of the visiting Cal State Fullerton Titans last weekend, winning by the scores of 16-3, 8-7, and 4-1.  The three wins extended Stanford's home winning streak to 12 games which dates back to last season.  Meanwhile, the Cardinal will put their 14 game road winning streak on the line this weekend.

The Bulldogs are playing their first games of the season this weekend.  Fresno State finished 30-29 last year including a 14-16 mark in WAC play.  However, they did finish relatively strong last season as after a 5-12 start to the year, the Bulldogs rattled off a 25-17 record to bring some momentum into the 2004 season.  Fresno State has been picked second in the WAC this preseason behind only defending national champion Rice.


PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS
* Friday : Stanford - Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 1-0, 3.60) vs. Fresno State - David Griffin (LHP; 2-1, 3.30 in 2003)

* Saturday : Stanford - Matt Manship (RHP; 0-0, 11.57) vs. Fresno State - Matt Garza (RHP; 1-6, 9.55 in 2003)

* Sunday : Stanford - Mark Jecmen (RHP; 1-0, 1.80) vs. Fresno State - TBA


WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH

* Matt Manship - This is a big start for the sophomore right hander.  Manship was roughed up pretty good in two of his outings in the preseason and was then tagged for three runs in 2 1/3 innings of his start last Saturday against Cal State Fullerton.  If last weekend was any indication, there are plenty of capable arms in the Stanford bullpen this year, so Manship is going to have to come out of the gate hot this weekend or else he could fall victim to another quick hook.  Last season, Manship compiled a 3.98 ERA along with a team-high nine saves.

* Season-opening jitters - These games mark the opening weekend of the season for the Fresno State Bulldogs.  Don't be surprised if some of their starting pitchers are a little fired up.  Remember last weekend when Fullerton #1 starter Ryan Schreppel walked five and hit a batter in the first inning which led to six Stanford runs.  This is a big weekend for Fresno State as they open up against one of the best teams in the country and it's on their home field.  Big crowds are the norm in Fresno too.  If the Bulldog pitchers aren't on top of their game's at the opening bell, then this Stanford offense could very well jump on them early.

* Jed Lowrie - Not a bad opening weekend for the sophomore middle infielder from Oregon.  Last year as a freshman, Lowrie was a solid hitter for Stanford, but generally nothing more than a singles guy who played solid defense.  Well, Lowrie's defense is still solid, but now he's quickly becoming one of the best hitters on a very powerful Stanford team.  Lowrie, in fact, hit fourth in the batting order in the series finale on Sunday against the Titans.  For the weekend, he went 6-for-11 with a double, homer, and four RBI.  We'll now see what he has for an encore.


STANFORD NOTES

Stanford had their way with Cal State Fullerton last weekend in posting a three-game sweep over the preseason #4 ranked team in the country.  As mentioned above, Jed Lowrie was the hitting star of the weekend.  Outfielders Sam Fuld (5-for-12) and Danny Putnam (4-for-10) also swung the bats very well.  In addition, Lowrie, John Mayberry, Jr., and Chris Carter each smacked home runs.  Some players looking for bounce back weekends include Carter, Brian Hall, and Chris Lewis.  The home run from Carter on Friday night was nice, but it was his only hit of the series in finishing 1-for-8.  He did, however, draw four walks.  The Bulldogs are scheduled to start a left handed pitcher on Friday, so Carter should get another chance to prove his worth against a southpaw.  Hall finished the weekend just 2-for-11, but played excellent defense out in right field.  Meanwhile, Lewis went hitless in six at-bats.  Expect to see Lewis start on Friday night against the lefty with frosh Adam Sorgi in the lineup on Saturday against the right hander.

On the mound, Stanford used eight pitchers last weekend.  Expect to see Coach Marquess continue to use a lot of arms in these non-conference series'.  Mark Romanczuk had a solid outing in the opener last Friday as he went five innings yielding two runs on seven hits.  Sunday starter Mark Jecmen, who was making his first weekend start in two years, dazzled in throwing five innings with only one run and three hits allowed.  The top relievers on the club also pitched very well last weekend with David O'Hagan recording the save on Saturday with three effective innings of work (one run allowed, three K's).  Jeff Gilmore tossed five shutout innings spanning two appearances.  And there just wasn't enough innings to get Kodiak Quick some time against the Titans, but expect to see #28 on the hill at some point in a big spot this weekend.

Probable Starting Lineup:
C - Donny Lucy (3-for-10, 0 HR, 1 RBI)
1B - John Mayberry, Jr. (3-for-12, 1 HR, 2 RBI)
2B - Chris Lewis (0-for-6, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
3B - Jonny Ash (4-for-12, 0 HR, 5 RBI)
SS - Jed Lowrie (6-for-11, 1 HR, 4 RBI)
LF - Danny Putnam (4-for-10, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
CF - Sam Fuld (5-for-12, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
RF - Brian Hall (2-for-11, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
DH - Chris Carter (1-for-8, 1 HR, 4 RBI)

Lucy got off to a strong start defensively when he threw out both runners that attempted to steal on him last weekend while he also picked off another ... Ash led the team with five RBI last weekend, the big hit was a three-run triple in the first inning on Friday night ... Putnam was held without an extra base hit, but he still walked three times and scored five runs.


FRESNO STATE NOTES

The Fresno State baseball program underwent a transformation last year when new head coach Mike Batesole was brought in to replace the legendary Bob Bennett who retired.  The final years of the Bennett regime were solid, but nothing like the glory days of the late 80's and early 90's.  Batesole was brought in from Cal State Northridge and struggled in the early parts of last season.  But a strong final 2/3 of the year coupled with some key returnees has Bulldog fans hopeful for a return to the NCAA Tournament.

Hitting was definitely not the strength of last season's Fresno State ballclub.  The finished with just a .268 team batting average while scoring a paltry 4.8 runs per game.  It doesn't help that FSU lost three of their top four hitters from that club either.  The Bulldogs do have some young talent, but could be overwhelmed at times this weekend.  As for which hitters to watch for in this series: Second baseman Ryan Haag is their top returning hitter.  The senior hit .289 last season with one home run and 25 RBI as Fresno's leadoff hitter.  His middle infield partner in shortstop Chris Patrick also is back.  Patrick hit .279 a year ago (after hitting .300 in 2002) with one home run and 25 RBI.  Both of these players are excellent defenders.

There isn't a whole lot of returning power on this team, however, corner outfielder Chase Moore and his eight home runs are back.  The eight home runs (which was second on the team) is the good news.  The bad news is that Moore hit just .167 last season while he struck out an amazing 59 times in just 114 at-bats!  The next leading returning power hitters are catcher Brandon Marcelli (.274, 2 HR, 19 RBI) and DH/INF Kent Sakamoto (.262, 2 HR, 19 RBI).  Haag, Patrick, Moore, Marcelli, and Sakamoto are the only returning starting position players.

Fresno State will probably have to rely on their pitching early in the season as their young hitters gain more experience.  FSU returns five pitchers from last year's team that threw 30 or more innings while also adding a pair of transfers from USC.  Friday starter David Griffin had the lowest ERA on the staff a year ago at 3.30.  However, just one of his 29 appearances were as a starter, so this is a new role for him.  Griffin is a senior.  Saturday starter Matt Garza had a difficult freshman campaign last season as in 43 1/3 innings pitched, he allowed 63 hits, walked 31, and surrendered 46 earned runs for a whopping 9.55 ERA.  He's obviously improved since he'll be starting this weekend, but the sophomore right hander will no doubt have his hands full with these Cardinal hitters.

Other returning pitchers include Toby Girazian (0-1, 3.90) who made some starts down the stretch last season.  Matt Scott (2-0, 4.03) made six starts last year while throwing 38 innings for the season.  Finally, Chad Edwards also returns.  Edwards will probably be one of the main relievers again on this team after appearing in a season-high 31 games a year ago while recording four saves and a 5.08 ERA.  The two transfers from USC are a pair of right handed relievers in Rudy Quinonez (1-0, 8.57) and Michael Cooper (1-0, 11.10).  Cooper, by the way, allowed ten runs in just two innings of relief work to Stanford in a game last May down in Los Angeles (the Cardinal won 22-10).

There are some experienced and talented arms on this Fresno pitching staff and they will have to carry the load early in the season.  Obviously it's tough to really judge this Bulldog team right now since they've yet to play a game, but on paper, they are definitely lacking some fire power in their offense.  Griffin and Garza are really going to have to bring their top stuff to the table this weekend if Fresno has any shot of winning this series. 


KEYS TO THE SERIES

* Keep Haag and Patrick off the bases -
These two players clearly have the most experience of anyone in the Fresno lineup and they'll likely hit near the top of the order.  Both guys can run and both will wreak havoc if they get on with some regularity.  If the Cardinal pitchers can keep these two off the base paths, I like Stanford's chances against the rest of their lineup.

* Right handed bats versus left handed arms - With Griffin starting on Friday night, it will be the 3rd lefty Stanford will see to start a game already this season.  There's no question that Stanford is a lefty powered offense with Fuld, Putnam, Ash, Carter, and Lowrie (switch), so there are going to be few opposing right handed pitchers that can completely shut down this offense.  But when facing a lefty starter, it's important for the top right handed swingers (Mayberry, Lucy, Hall) to step up and deliver some big hits.  These hitters don't get to face many lefties in intrasquad games since Romanczuk and Blake Holler are the only southpaws on the staff, so they're getting thrown into the fire early on here in 2004.

* Keep those arms coming - Stanford looks to have much better pitching depth this season if this past weekend (and the intrasquad games) are any indication.  It can be so tough for opposing hitters if Stanford is throwing out a fresh and talented arm every two or three innings.  If the Cardinal get the same kind of performances from their starters and relievers as last week, they'll win this series.


LAST YEAR

These teams met in mid February last season at Sunken Diamond for a three-game series.  Stanford won all three contests by the scores of 4-1, 5-2, and 7-2.  In the opener, John Hudgins carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning.  At the plate, John Mayberry, Jr. was the top hitter of the weekend going 5-for-9 with a home run.  Mark Romanczuk saved both the Friday and Saturday games with a combined three scoreless innings.

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