Baseball Preview: Fresno State

After getting swept at Cal State Fullerton, the Cardinal are still looking for win #1 in 2007. This weekend, they'll open their home schedule with a three-game set versus Fresno State beginning Friday evening. The Bulldogs, an NCAA Tournament team a year ago, are also off to a slow start. Here is a complete preview of the weekend series.

It's going to be a bounce back weekend for either Stanford or Fresno State.  The Cardinal are off to an 0-3 start after dropping all three games to then-#14 Cal State Fullerton last weekend in Orange County.  The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are just 1-3 thanks to a series loss at home to San Francisco and a midweek defeat at Cal Poly.  One team will get a needed boost to their record while the other will sink deeper below the .500 mark.

For Stanford, they'll look to their pitching staff for improvement after a dreadful weekend at Fullerton.  The Titans roughed up the Cardinal for 29 runs in the three games including an 11-run bottom of the seventh inning on Sunday afternoon to cap the sweep.  It all starts with Nolan Gallagher who will again get the nod on Friday night.

Gallagher was tagged for seven runs (six earned) on eight hits in just three innings of work at Fullerton in the season-opener last weekend.  Control wasn't a major issue for the junior right-hander (no walks, two hit by pitches), but the #1 starter was way too hittable as the Titans built a huge lead.  With pitching down throughout the west coast this season, Gallagher has a bigger margin of error as compared to Greg Reynolds last season, but another outing like he had last weekend will raise some major concerns for the supposed ace of this staff.

Fresno State has a revamped weekend rotation this season after losing all three of their starters from last year's NCAA Tournament team.  The trio of Eddie Romero (3.72 ERA), Doug Fister (4.10 ERA), and Andy Underwood (3.40 ERA) combined for a 33-11 record and a whopping 374 1/3 innings (66% of innings pitched by Fresno hurlers in 2006).  The Bulldogs went 45-18 last season, won a WAC title, and reached the championship game of the Fullerton Regional (before getting blown out by the CWS-bound Titans) thanks in large part because of these three pitchers.

It's a new look this season with senior lefty Brandon Miller opposing Gallagher on Friday night with junior right-handers Brandon Burke and Clayton Allison rounding out the Fresno State rotation.

Miller has plenty of experience having made 57 appearances in his first three seasons as a Bulldog.  He was a starter as a freshman (15 GS), pitched in a number of different roles as a sophomore, and was used almost exclusively as a reliever last season.  In just 19 1/3 innings last season over 18 appearances (one start), Miller put up some solid numbers with an 0-2 record and 2.79 ERA.  The control-pitcher is now being asked to lead this staff and is coming off a start last Friday in which he allowed five runs (three earned) on eight hits over five innings against San Francisco.  Bottom line, both Gallagher and Miller are looking for their first quality starts of the season when they match-up on Friday evening.

Burke is another new, but still experienced, starting pitcher for the Bulldogs.  The probable starter on Saturday afternoon, Burke was fourth on last year's FSU staff with 67 innings pitched.  He made 24 overall appearances (second-most) and five starts and finished the year with solid numbers of 8-5, 3.88 ERA.  Burke was the losing pitcher against the Dons last Saturday, but still threw very well allowing only two earned runs on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings. 

Meanwhile, it'll be Allison, a junior college transfer, getting the ball on Sunday.  Allison pitched four innings in his Fresno State debut last weekend yielding three runs on three hits.  The Bulldogs were able to pull out a 5-4 win in that contest to salvage a game in the series.  A pitcher at College of Sequoias last spring, Allison is a big guy at 6'5", 235 lbs. 

Fresno State was picked third in the seven-team Western Athletic Conference by Baseball America (as opposed to defending their title) primarily because of the losses of their three talented, inning-eating starting pitchers.  There are questions as to whether Miller, Burke, and Allison can come close to that production this year.  This weekend will be a good test for the trio.

Fresno State does return all eight other pitchers who saw action in 2006 - two of which (Miller and Burke) are now in the starting rotation.

After Gallagher, there are no changes in the Stanford rotation with freshman Jeff Inman starting on Saturday and sophomore Jeremy Bleich getting the call on Sunday.  Inman initially was strong in his collegiate debut at Fullerton allowing just one run in his first four innings.  The Titans though would get to him for four runs in the bottom of the fifth as they mounted their comeback.  Bleich, meanwhile, pitched very well last Sunday surrendering just one run in his first six innings before tiring in the seventh (three runs allowed without recording an out). 

Ten different relievers saw action against Fullerton as the pitching staff combined for a dismal 10.50 ERA.  Junior Rex Petrill, sophomores Blake Hancock and Tom Stilson, and freshmen Inman, Cory Bannister, Andrew Clauson, and Brandt Walker all made their collegiate debuts on the mound last weekend.

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Stanford was without three key offensive starters last weekend at Fullerton with injuries to Jason Castro, Brent Milleville, and Ryan Seawell.  Castro is still out (hand), but Milleville and Seawell should be ready for game action against the Bulldogs.  Milleville will likely get a chance at either first base or DH as the sophomore slugger has shown tremendous improvement offensively since the end of last season (hit .198 with two homers in '06).  When completely healthy, Milleville can be one of the top power threats on the Cardinal.

Seawell, the lone senior on the team, is returning from a hamstring injury.  The local product hit .313 last season and turned himself into a quality leadoff man during the second half of last season.  Seawell could return to that position in the lineup this weekend, but the greater possibility may be his presence in the middle of the order with Castro out, and Milleville and Adam Sorgi still recovering from injuries.  Seawell, who played center field last season, may also get a look at third base - where he's been working out at practice this week - to cut down on his running and get another outfield bat in the lineup (i.e. Joey August or Toby Gerhart).

Sophomore infielder Cord Phelps, who started at third base all last weekend, led the club in hitting at Fullerton with a .417 average (5-for-12).  Phelps connected for four doubles.  Junior catcher Brian Juhl homered in the series-opener on Friday and finished the weekend with a .364 average (4-for-11).  Sean Ratliff, on the heels of an excellent preseason at the plate, hit leadoff all weekend and supplied five hits in 15 at-bats (.333 AVG).  Meanwhile, Michael Taylor had just three hits, but all three went for extra bases (two triples and a home run).

Questions this weekend on the position player side for the Cardinal include: 1) Where does Seawell play?, 2) How much does Milleville play?, 3) Does Sorgi remain at DH?

For Fresno State, enough starters return from last year's solid offensive club (.313 AVG, 73 HR) to make some noise in 2007.  Home run hitters Beau Mills (.355 AVG, 14 HR) and Christian Vitters (.340 AVG, 11 HR) have moved on, but five starters (all of which hit over .300) are back this season.  Those five players make up the top five spots in the batting order for the Bulldogs.

Junior rightfielder Ozzie Lewis hit .331 last season and came on strong toward the end of the year earning WAC Tournament MVP honors.  Lewis was the preseason pick for WAC Player of the Year according to the league coaches and is primed for a huge season.  Lewis bats fourth in the Fresno lineup and is off to a 4-for-15 start (.267 AVG).

Three other outfielders return in Brian Lapin (.349, 3 HR, 42 RBI in '06), Steve Susdorf (.329, 14 HR, 49 RBI), and Loren Storey (.306, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 21 SB).  Lapin, who is 6'6", will play center field and will probably bat behind Lewis in the order.  Storey and Susdorf hit second and third respectively and alternate between left field and DH.

Meanwhile, sophomore second baseman Erik Wetzel (.325, 1 HR, 27 RBI, 10 SB) is a solid leadoff hitter and a returning starter up the middle.

Keep an eye on freshman third baseman Tommy Mendonca as well.  Mendonca is expected to be one of the top freshman position players on the west coast this year and he's off to a hot start.  Mendonca has hit two of Fresno's first three home runs and has five hits in his first 14 at-bats (.357 AVG).

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Fresno State Bulldogs (1-3)  at  Stanford Cardinal (0-3)

Fresno State Projected Lineup
C - Dan Grubb  (So., 3-for-7, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
1B - Jason Hershfield  (Jr., 2-for-14, 0 HR, 1 RBI)
2B - Erik Wetzel  (So., 5-for-14, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
3B - Tommy Mendonca  (Fr., 5-for-14, 2 HR, 3 RBI)
SS - David Hernandez  (Fr., 0-for-7, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
LF - Loren Storey  (Sr., 5-for-14, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
CF - Brian Lapin  (Jr., 3-for-16, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
RF - Ozzie Lewis  (Jr., 4-for-15, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
DH - Steve Susdorf  (Jr., 4-for-16, 1 HR, 4 RBI)

Fri. - Brandon Miller, LHP  (Sr., 0-1, 5.40 ERA, 5.0 IP, 1 BB, 4 SO)
Sat. - Brandon Burke, RHP  (Jr., 0-1, 2.45 ERA, 7.1 IP, 0 BB, 3 SO)
Sun. - Clayton Allison, RHP  (Jr., 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 4.0 IP, 3 BB, 2 SO)


Stanford Projected Lineup
C - Brian Juhl  (Jr., 4-for-11, 1 HR, 1 RBI)
1B - Grant Escue  (So., 2-for-10, 0 HR, 1 RBI)  or  Brent Milleville  (So.)
2B - Austin Yount  (So., 4-for-13, 0 HR, 3 RBI)
3B - Cord Phelps  (So., 5-for-12, 0 HR, 1 RBI)  or  Ryan Seawell  (Sr.)
SS - Adam Gaylord  (Fr., 2-for-10, 0 HR, 0 RBI)  or  Phelps
LF - Joey August  (So., 2-for-7, 0 HR, 1 RBI)  or  Toby Gerhart  (Fr., 1-for-5, 0 HR, 0 RBI)  or  Seawell
CF - Sean Ratliff  (So., 5-for-15, 0 HR, 1 RBI)
RF - Michael Taylor  (Jr., 3-for-13, 1 HR, 4 RBI)
DH - Adam Sorgi  (Jr., 1-for-4, 0 HR, 3 RBI)

Fri. - Nolan Gallagher, RHP  (Jr., 0-1, 18.00 ERA, 3.0 IP, 0 BB, 1 SO)
Sat. - Jeff Inman, RHP  (Fr., 0-0, 9.64 ERA, 4.2 IP, 3 BB, 5 SO)
Sun. - Jeremy Bleich, LHP  (So., 0-1, 6.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 3 BB, 4 SO)

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Fresno State, despite plenty of returning fire power on offense, has struggled to score runs in their first four games.  In dropping three of their first four, the Bulldogs have scored just 13 runs (3.3 AVG) and are hitting .260 as a team.  The pitching staff owns an ERA of 4.11.

As mentioned above, Fresno was picked third in the WAC by Baseball America prior to the start of the season.  Hawaii (1st) and Louisiana Tech (2nd) were the two schools picked ahead of the Bulldogs.  The WAC coaches have Fresno State and Hawaii tied for first in their preseason poll.

Fresno State at Stanford
FRIDAY: 5:00 P.M.
SATURDAY: 1:00 P.M.
SUNDAY: 1:00 P.M.

On Deck
Another challenging road series awaits the Cardinal as they'll match-up with 7th ranked Texas in Austin next weekend, February 16-18.  However, after the Texas series, Stanford is scheduled to play 11 of their next 12 games at Sunken Diamond.

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