Hitting Woes Continue

After not being shutout in a Pac-10 game in nearly five years, Stanford has suffered that fate on consecutive nights in Corvallis. The 11th ranked Beavers posted 3-0 and 1-0 victories over the Cardinal on Thursday and Friday respectively to clinch the series win. Stanford mustered only eight hits in the first two games and now needs a win on Sunday to avoid getting swept for the first time this year.

It's been five years since the Cardinal were last held scoreless in a Pac-10 game.  The 2006 edition just managed to accomplish that feat on consecutive nights.  The Stanford baseball team, from an offensive prospective, just may have sunk to their lowest mark in a decade with back-to-back shutout losses at Oregon State this weekend.  After a 3-0 loss to the 11th ranked Beavers on Thursday evening, Oregon State came right back with a 1-0 win on Friday to clinch the series victory.

You certainly can't fault the Stanford pitching staff for their woes to begin the Pac-10 season.  The Cardinal have now lost six of their first eight conference games and find themselves currently in last place.  In those six losses, the Stanford offense has mustered a mere nine runs.  Even last year's club, that hit under .300 for the first time at Stanford in ten years, didn't sink to this level. 

Meanwhile, in those six Pac-10 losses, the Cardinal pitching staff has more than held their own posting a 3.76 ERA.  Numbers like that from a pitching staff generally lead to a conference championship - not a last place standing.

On Thursday, Greg Reynolds was as dominant as ever through the first five innings.  The junior right-hander, who continues to impress scouts to the point where a first round draft selection is becoming a very real possibility, allowed just two hits (both singles) during the initial five frames.  Reynolds had no problems pitching through a pair of errors behind him and, once again, gave his team an excellent chance to win.

Oregon State though was able to finally find a way to solve Reynolds in the bottom of the sixth.  A bloop single from Darwin Barney was sandwiched in between a pair of walks to load the bases with none out.  Bill Rowe then followed with a single to deep shortstop to score the game's first run.  That would turn out to be all the Beavers would need, but Shea McFeely followed with a single through the middle scoring two more OSU runs.  Reynolds did an excellent job to limit the damage after that hit eventually striking out the final two batters of the inning to keep the Cardinal within striking distance.

All total, the Cardinal ace went seven strong innings on Thursday yielding three runs on seven hits.  He walked four and struck out seven during his 128-pitch outing.

Freshman right-hander Max Fearnow, who continues to push his way into a regular role out of the bullpen, struck out the side in the bottom of the eighth.

What made Thursday so discouraging offensively for the Cardinal was that they didn't even face one of Oregon State's aces.  All-Americans Dallas Buck and Jonah Nickerson were held back for the second and third games of the series respectively to keep them throwing on their scheduled days.  So instead, Stanford saw sophomore right-hander Mike Stutes - a Santa Clara transfer - on Thursday.  Stutes was having a solid year pitching as both a reliever and occasional third starter.  He would, however, come through with a memorable performance in the series-opener this weekend propelling the Beavers to the victory.

Stutes allowed just three hits and managed to pitch around four walks during his 6 2/3 innings on the mound.  Stanford threatened in the top of the first putting runners on first and second with none out.  But a Chris Minaker line out and a Randy Molina double play ground out ended that threat.

Stanford hit into another double play in the fourth while also having runners thrown out trying to steal in the second and fifth frames.

Trailing 3-0, the Cardinal had their best chance to score in the top of the seventh.  Back-to-back two-out walks from Stutes set the table and ended the starting pitcher's evening on the mound.  After a four-pitch walk to Chris Lewis loaded the bases, Ryan Seawell stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter.  But on a 2-1 offering from reliever Joe Paterson, Seawell popped out to first base leaving three runners on.

After a leadoff single from Cord Phelps in the eighth, the final six Stanford batters went down in order (four via the strike out) to end the game.

Friday's tilt saw exactly the same offensive production from the Cardinal : zero runs and four hits.  This time, Stanford went up against undefeated Dallas Buck.  The junior, who also has a chance at a first round draft selection this June, had won 18 of 19 decisions during the last two years.  However, he hadn't been nearly as dominant this season posting a 3.99 ERA entering Friday (after sitting in the low 2's last year).

Buck though had little problems weaving his way through the Stanford lineup on Friday.  The Cardinal put a pair of runners on with two outs in the first inning, but a John Hester fly out ended the rally.  Then in the third, a Jim Rapoport double followed by a hit by pitch of Minaker and a Michael Taylor single loaded the bases.  But it would be Hester grounding into a 5-4-3 double play to again keep Stanford off the scoreboard.

That third inning rally would be Stanford's best chance to score until the ninth, to say the least.  Buck retired the Cardinal in order 1-2-3 over the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings.  He only managed three strike outs during the stretch, but all total, the right-hander retired 17 consecutive hitters until Taylor drew a four-pitch walk in the top of the ninth.

Trailing 1-0 at the time, Stanford had a golden opportunity to tie or take the lead in the ninth inning.  Hester followed the Taylor walk with a single through the left side to put runners on the corners.  A pitching change then brought ace closer Kevin Gunderson into the game.  With a southpaw on the mound, Coach Marquess countered by sending the left-handed hitting Randy Molina to the bench in favor of a right-handed bat in Seawell.  Needing just a fly ball to the outfield to score the tying run, Seawell, unfortunately, was unable to deliver.  On a 2-0 pitch, he grounded into a routine 6-4-3 double play to force out Hester and end the game.

Clearly, the one bright spot from Friday's action was the emergence of Jeremy Bleich as a starter.  In a bit of a surprise considering fellow starters David Stringer and Matt Manship have been throwing pretty well of late, Marquess decided to shake things up by inserting the freshman into the rotation.  Bleich has appeared in 15 of Stanford's first 27 games out of the bullpen recording a team-high seven saves.  He kept that strong momentum going with a fabulous outing on Friday evening.

Over the first six innings, the southpaw allowed just two hits (a bloop triple and a single) and no runs.  He never endured an inning with more than one baserunner while also notching four punchouts. 

Bleich allowed a leadoff single to Cole Gillespie in the bottom of the seventh, and despite a pitch count of just 73, was then removed from the game.  Nolan Gallagher was summoned from the bullpen and there was no question that Gallagher was on his game from a "stuff" perspective.  He didn't allow a hit in his two innings of work while picking up three strike outs in the process.

Unfortunately, consecutive balks with the sophomore on the mound brought home the eventual winning run.  In that seventh inning, a sacrifice bunt moved Gillespie to second before he was balked to third by Gallagher and then balked home.  With runners on the corners and one out, Gallagher attempted the fake-to-third, throw-to-first move.  According to the umpiring crew though, Gallagher stepped too close to home plate as opposed to the direction of third base and thus the violation was called.  And with Stanford again not mustering any sort of offense, that's all it would take for yet another defeat.


Thursday:
Stanford       0 0 0  0 0 0  0 0 0   -   0   4   2
Oregon State   0 0 0  0 0 3  0 0 X   -   3   7   0

WP: Mike Stutes (3-2)
LP: Greg Reynolds (2-3)
S: Kevin Gunderson (8)


Friday:
Stanford       0 0 0  0 0 0  0 0 0   -   0   4   0
Oregon State   0 0 0  0 0 0  1 0 X   -   1   3   0

WP: Dallas Buck (7-0)
LP: Jeremy Bleich (2-2)
S: Kevin Gunderson (9)


Notes:
* Stanford's managed just eight hits combined in the first two games for a total team batting average of .143.

* The duo of Bleich and Gallagher held the potent Oregon State offense to just three hits on Friday.  Bleich lowered his season ERA to 2.08 (6 ER/26.0 IP) while Gallagher's now sits at a team-best 1.46 (4 ER/24.2 IP).

* Taylor and Hester each picked up single hits in both games to extend modest hitting streaks to four games.  Not a single Cardinal batter recorded a multi-hit game in either contest.

* Prior to this weekend, Stanford was last shutout in a Pac-10 game on April 28, 2001 (4-0 at California).  That was a stretch of 109 consecutive conference games without being shutout.

* Over the last three games (27 innings), the Cardinal have managed just two runs.  Both of those scores were on Monday night against Pacific and both were unearned tallies.

* Now at the exact halfway point of the regular season, Stanford's team batting average has dropped all the way down to .264 - 23 points below last season's output.  At .264, this would be the lowest team average in Marquess' 30 years as head coach if the season ended today.  It would be the Cardinal's lowest average since the 1975 club hit just .262.


On Deck:
Saturday's scheduled series finale between the Cardinal and Beavers was postponed due to rain.  The teams will now play on Sunday afternoon with first pitch slated for 12:00 P.M.  Oregon State will send the right-hander Jonah Nickerson (5-3, 2.47 ERA) to the hill while Stanford has yet to officially announce a starting pitcher.  In all likelihood, either David Stringer (2-2, 3.41 ERA) or Matt Manship (1-3, 4.39 ERA) will get the ball.


Pac-10 Update:
In possibly the Pac-10 series of the year, Arizona State took two-of-three games from USC in Tempe this weekend.  The Trojans scored five runs in the top of the ninth inning on Thursday night for a dramatic 13-12 come-from-behind victory.  But ASU stormed back with a run in the ninth and a run in the tenth on Friday for a 10-9 win.  Then in the rubber contest on Saturday afternoon, the Sun Devils plated a single run in the bottom of the ninth to post a thrilling 8-7 victory.

Other action has seen UCLA take two-of-three from Arizona (3-4, 13-8, 8-5) in Tucson.  California and Washington State have split the first two games of their series up in Pullman (9-2 Cal, 5-4 WSU) with the rubber matchup scheduled for Saturday night.  Meanwhile, Washington won two-of-three over visiting BYU (10-1, 2-4, 12-1) in a non-conference series.

- Standings -
USC                8-4   -   22-16
Arizona State      6-3  0.5  27-11
Oregon State       5-3  1.0  24-9
UCLA               5-4  1.5  20-15
Washington State   5-6  2.5  23-13
California         5-6  2.5  17-17
Washington         4-5  2.5  24-14
Arizona            3-6  3.5  15-18
Stanford           2-6  4.0  15-13

Despite their early difficulties in conference action, a win on Sunday would move Stanford to within two games of third place.  A series at struggling Arizona is next on the docket.  However, a loss on Sunday keeps the Cardinal in sole possession of last place with a conference record at five games under the .500 mark.

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