BASEBALL: Cougs need to right ship fast

THE WASHINGTON STATE BASEBALL team wobbles its way into the start of Pac-10 play at 16th-ranked California this weekend, and Donnie Marbut says there's a simple explanation for the Cougars' disappointing play thus far.

"My fault," the fiery Cougars coach said Tuesday during his weekly teleconference. "I haven't done a good enough job preparing these guys on a daily basis."

The Cougars are 9-7 with three straight losses. That's bad enough for a team with College World Series aspirations, but Donnie Marbut said he's more disappointed in the lack of intensity and grit.

Marbut acknowledges that "it's definitely the responsibility of the athletes" to come prepared to play, but he accepts much of the blame.

"I tried to make some changes this summer to try to continue to have this program grow and me as a coach grow," Marbut said. "I think I lost my way a little bit. I think I lost my edge. I think it's affected the team."

Specifically, Marbut said he's "tried to be more positive." That may change this week, as Marbut promised to push the Cougars hard in practice.

"You can never be too positive, but like I said, I think things have slid a little bit," he said. "I don't think we've practiced as hard as we have (in past years), which in turn has maybe made our play a little bit sloppy. Maybe our attention to detail hasn't been great."

THE COUGARS RANK at or near the bottom of the Pac-10 in earned run average (4.53), home runs allowed (seven), wild pitches (13) and fielding percentage (.965). WSU is third in batting (.303) and tied for second with Cal in home runs (10).

Marbut said the Cougars "played a horrible brand of baseball" last week at then-No. 17 Fresno State. The Cougars got swept in a three-game series that was shortened due to rain. One of the losses came by a 16-1 margin.

"We have embarrassed ourselves," Marbut said before heading home from Fresno.

Now the Cougars travel to Berkeley to face a Cal team that is 13-5. The Golden Bears have allowed just one run during a three-game winning streak.

"Their (starting pitching) rotation is one of the best in the country," Marbut said.

WSU junior left-hander Adam Conley (4-1, 1.51), coming off a 7-5 loss at Fresno State, is expected to pitch Friday against junior right-hander Erik Johnson (3-1, 1.38). James Wise (2-1, 3.38) is set to take the mound Saturday for the Cougars, followed by Chad Arnold (0-1, 22.50) on Sunday.

Arnold, WSU's No. 1 starter last year, gave up five runs on four hits in two innings in his season debut Saturday after recovering from elbow problems. Marbut said the senior right-hander will be limited to approximately 60 pitches Sunday.

"His command was a little off," Marbut said, "but the least of my concerns and worries is Chad Arnold. I've told this to everybody -- Chad Arnold is as big a big-game pitcher as I've ever been around."

JUST ABOUT EVERY Pac-10 game qualifies as a "big game" this year. Baseball America magazine has six Pac-10 teams ranked in its Top 25 (topped by No. 6 Arizona State), and California has played inspired baseball since learning that the school plans to eliminate baseball after this season due to budget cuts.

"Other than these three games this weekend, I'll be pulling for Cal every game," Marbut said.

The Bears' ballpark is not lighted, so all three games will be played in the afternoon. Friday's game will be tape delayed on FSN at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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