This week in Cougar baseball

PULLMAN-- Twelve games in, the Cougar baseball team seems to have found some rhythm. Washington State stands at 7-5 following its first homestand of the season and Donnie Marbut says if there's one quality that's defined the Cougs early on it's this: resilient. By that, he means the Cougars have come back to post a win after every loss. And if the Cougars have a late lead, Marbut says, look out.

Marbut has said the strength of the 2015 squad is the bullpen. But against UC Riverside, it was the starters who toed the rubber most effectively. The bullpen surrendered eight runs over 15 2/3 innings of work, supporting a starting rotation that gave up but four runs in 20 1/3 innings.

Some relievers have been more menacing than others. Junior reliever Matt Bower has been the rock, going 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA in six appearances. He has limited opposing hitters to a .189 batting average, and has 17 strikeouts compared to just five walks.

Sophomore closer Ian Hamilton (pictured above) is second all-time in WSU history with 20 saves and already has five this season. He owns a 1.23 ERA in six appearances.

Finally, freshman Ryan Walker has shown his reliability on the mound. In six games, Walker has struck out 10 and walked one while compiling a 3.48 ERA.

"I think the bullpen is going to be our strength for sure, but it doesn't mean our starting rotation can't match it," Marbut said this week. "If our starting rotation becomes as good as I think our bullpen is, then you've got something really, really special."

With a little bit of help from hitters like senior infielder Ian Sagdal, sophomore outfielder Cameron Frost, freshman infielder Jack Strunc and freshman outfielder Wes Hatten, the Cougars figure to do well this weekend against Sacred Heart. Hatten enters the series leading the Cougars with a .333 batting average. Sagdal and Frost are tied for the team-lead in RBI's with nine apiece. Strunc has scored a team-high 11 runs in 12 games this season.

That three of those four players are underclassmen is a promising sign, said Marbut.

"We don't play because of age. We play the guy that's the best player, and sometimes it's the young guy that's the better player than the older guy," Marbut said.

The week ahead: Sacred Heart doesn't look like much on paper, especially at the plate. The Pioneers are batting .148 as a team and getting on base about 20 percent of the time.

Sacred Heart has been outscored 24-3 in its first four games, all losses, so it shouldn't take a lot of runs to defeat the Pioneers. The key for the Cougars will be to continue the pitching success they had against UC Riverside (the Cougs held UCR to an average of three runs a game in taking three of the four-game series).

Perhaps this will be the series when redshirt junior outfielder Ben Roberts gets going at the plate. Roberts was expected to be a leader of this offense but has been mired in a slump. In 10 starts, the outfielder is batting .107 with a slugging percentage of .143, down from a .289 batting average and .369 slugging percentage a year ago.

"If he goes 10 for 15 this weekend, which he could, now all of a sudden he's hitting .300, so I just really don't try to look at batting average. We look at strikeout percentage and walk percentage and OPS," Marbut said. "There are different numbers we look at that maybe don't show up in the box scores."

Marbut added that some guys don't start hot, but he expects Roberts to return to his form soon so he can make an impact in the middle of the lineup. In 28 at-bats, Roberts has 10 strikeouts, six walks, and an on-base percentage of .359.

Senior righty Robbie Maguire could be a challenge for the Cougars on Thursday. He allowed one run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings in his first start (1.69 ERA).

Junior outfielder Jayson Sullivan is Sacred Heart's best hitter on paper through four games. In 15 at-bats, he has four hits, zero strikeouts and an on-base percentage of .313.

First pitch on Thursday is scheduled at 6 p.m. Friday's matchup will also start at 6 p.m. The weekend's games start at 2 p.m. on Saturday and at noon on Sunday.

  • Marbut said the Cougars will stick with the starting rotation they used against UC Riverside last weekend. Sean Hartnett will pitch Thursday, Joe Pistorese goes Friday, Nick Leonard takes the mound Saturday, and Layne Bruner gets the call Sunday.

  • Senior catcher P.J. Jones leads the team with 11 walks. Although his .226 batting average isn't glamorous, his .478 on-base percentage is the highest among the Cougar regulars.

  • Trek Stemp is back with the team. Marbut said Stemp made the decision last season to focus on school and to hang up his cleats. But Stemp missed the game too much, and is now helping in practice and working on his own game during what Marbut said will be a redshirt year for him. Stemp would be a redshirt-junior next season. The infielder/outfielder played in 45 games last season with 36 starts, hitting .242 with 10 RBIs.

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