This Week in Cougar Baseball

WHEN THE Washington Huskies recruited Washington State baseball star Yale Rosen, they came up a day late and a dollar short. Literally. "They asked me to verbal the day after I verbaled to WSU," Rosen recalled. "I had to respectfully decline. "It wasn't (only) a matter of which team I thought was better. I'm a man of my word."

Comments like that prompt WSU coach Donnie Marbut to note, "He's a very mature kid. He's more mature than the average 21-year-old."

The uncommonly mature young man with the uncommonly interesting name – Yale Marschall Sanford Rosen, to be precise – developed his uncommon baseball skills in uncommon fashion. He fully intends to remind the seventh-ranked Huskies what they missed out on when the Cougars visit Washington this weekend.

"They swept us last year," Rosen recalled. "That was kind of a punch in the gut for a lot of us, especially us returning guys. We've got to come out and play hard and play our game. If our best players show up, we'll have a good chance to take the series."

Although he was born in baseball country – Southern California – Rosen grew up on a farm on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. Rosen started both ways during his one season of varsity football at Oak Harbor High, and he hit .500 as a senior on the baseball team, but Rosen gained most of his prep sports notoriety by placing four straight years at the state swimming championships.

"When I was swimming," Rosen growls, "I hated it."

Baseball, it turns out, has always been the love of Rosen's life. Scout.com projects the junior right fielder to go in the fourth round of the June draft, and he can't wait to fulfill his lifelong ambition of playing pro ball this summer.

"I can come to the park every single day and have a smile on my face," Rosen said.

Hunting and fishing with teammates or girlfriend Erin Allen, a member of the WSU women's track team, are two other activities that put a smile on Rosen's bearded mug. That smile turns upside down when he ponders WSU's current four-game losing streak, during which the Cougars have been outscored 26-7.

"Our coaches give us a plan (for hitting)," Rosen said. "I think a select few of us are committed to that plan. Those of us who have (committed) have been successful. I think once everyone else buys into that plan, they'll have just as much success."

Well, maybe not as much as Rosen. The only Cougar to play in all 37 games, the economics major leads the team and ranks among the Pac-12's best with a .351 batting average, four home runs, 24 RBIs, 12 doubles, a .452 on-base percentage and a .565 slugging percentage.

"He really works at his game," Marbut said. "He's become very coachable. It's important for him to do well."

Last year, his first as a college starter, Rosen hit .314 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 54 games. That came on the heels of an outstanding summer season with the Newport (R.I.) Gulls, the nation's top-ranked college summer team, following a disappointing freshman season at WSU. He hit just .087 (2-for-23) in limited action.

"He put a lot of pressure on himself," Marbut said. "We knew he was talented."

"It was the first time I'd been on the bench … I just didn't take advantage of the opportunities when I did play," Rosen said. "But once I got to summer ball, my hitting coach (Al Leyva) made one change getting me to move my legs a little bit. Everything worked out."

Rosen's summer numbers dipped substantially last year when he moved up to the prestigious Cape Cod League. His average dropped from .330 to .237 and his homers from 12 to three, but Rosen said he cherished his time in the Cape Cod League, which has produced countless major leaguers.

"I loved the Cape," he said. "It was a good experience for me. It was an honor just to have an opportunity to play in that league."

Someday, Rosen hopes to have the opportunity to play in the major leagues. Marbut holds out no hope that his best player will return for his senior season– "He's out of here" – but the veteran coach loves following former Cougars in the pros.

"Watching their dreams come true," Marbut says, "is pretty awesome."

THE COUGARS (17-20, 7-8 Pac-12) are halfway through their 30-game conference schedule. The Washington series, WSU's third straight against a Top 25 opponent, could prove pivotal in the Cougars' bid for their first winning season and NCAA tournament appearance since 2010. "It doesn't get any more important than this," Marbut said. "We've got to win the series." The Cougars have dropped the past three meetings with Washington, and seven of eight. Marbut has four games left on his six-game Pac-12 suspension for a confrontation with umpires last Friday at Oregon.

THE HUSKIES, 27-9-1 overall and 14-4 in the Pac-12, lead second-place Oregon State by 1 1-2 games. Washington won 17 of 19 games before getting outscored 8-1 while losing the past two games. The No. 7 ranking is the highest the Huskies have ever received from Baseball America. "They've got a lot of good energy in their program right now," Marbut said.

WASHINGTON LEADS the Pac-12 with a .288 batting average and 17 home runs. Senior right fielder Brian Wolfe, playing with a brace on his broken thumb, is the team leader in batting (.400), RBIs (27) and home runs (four, tied with Robert Pehl). Regular Saturday starter Tyler Davis (8-1, 1.54), an undersized right-hander with an underwhelming fastball, tops the Huskies in wins and earned run average. The Huskies rank among the national leaders in fielding percentage (.979) and double plays (42). WSU is tied for the Pac-12 lead in double plays with Washington.

THE POSSIBILITY of rain is in the forecast in Seattle this weekend, but what else is new? If the weather cooperates, large crowds figure to be on hand all three games at Washington's new $15 million ballpark. Naturally, Husky Ballpark is equipped with artificial turf. The Pac-12 Networks televise this weekend's games live at 7:05 p.m. Friday, 7:35 p.m. Saturday and 2:05 p.m. Sunday. The Cougars radio broadcast is available for free at wsucougars.com.

THE COUGARS were picked to finish eighth and the Huskies 10th in the preseason Pac-12 coaches poll. Neither team has won the Pac-10/12 since the conference went to one division in 1999.

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