This week in Cougar baseball

WITH 16 true freshmen on the roster, Washington State baseball coach Donnie Marbut knew he would have to play some youngsters in 2015. He didn't necessarily know how many, nor how it would turn out. Now he does. The Cougars, fresh off two series wins against Pac-12 foe, carry an 18-17 record into a weekend stanza with San Jose State.

In the last seven games, Marbut has started at least five freshmen in each game. He started four in Game 1 of the series against California and then it went to five when senior catcher P.J. Jones was injured, opening the door for a pair of freshmen catchers.

That young lineup has delivered a 5-2 record in those seven games, including series wins over California and Washington.

The Golden Bears were ranked No. 12 nationally at the time.

The Cougars' freshman mix includes Derek Chapman, Wes Hatten (pictured above), Shane Matheny, and Jack Strunc. That's in addition to the first-year catchers J.J. Hancock and Brennon Kaleiwahea. The best of that group statistically has been Hatten, who has produced 27 hits in 96 at-bats over the course of 31 games this season.

"I don't know how good we can be. I don't know what the ceiling of this team is. Five weeks ago, we didn't have a left-handed-hitting leadoff guy like Derek Chapman," Marbut said. "Chapman is on fire right now. He's playing great baseball, but it's a credit to him. He's gotten to play and he's evolving. It's fun to go out there every day because you don't know what's going to happen."

Chapman was 3 for 3 with an RBI and two runs scored against New Mexico State on Monday. He went 6 for 13 at the plate against the Huskies last weekend.

Daniel Fredrickson is another freshman who has been thrown into the fire. He has only played in 17 games, less than the other freshmen, but he owns a .292 batting average and a .357 on-base percentage.

Fredrickson provides some stability in the outfield. Veteran outfielder Ben Roberts has not come around since an early-season slump, and remains mired in that hole even after 32 games played. He does have a .353 on-base percentage, but he is tied for the third-most strikeouts on the team with 25. Those have not helped his .133 batting average.

Marbut praised the young catchers for their services in lieu of Jones. Their performance has been pleasantly unexpected, and Marbut said he is glad they were ready to step up when needed.

"This year is a very informative learning experience for me because I've never had this type of team," Marbut said.

The coach said the Cougars' youth makes progression much quicker than it is for most teams. That is evident in their energetic dugout atmosphere, which the New Mexico State coach complimented on Monday to Marbut. The Cougars are buying into the atmosphere and culture the coaches are trying to create, motivating the players to seek improvement on a daily basis.

"There's been a constant evolution of this team, and they're just continuing to do some things. They're not perfect, but they're doing what we ask and they're working at it. It's fun to be around," Marbut said.

This week:WSU opens its four-game series against San Jose State on Thursday. In a four-game set last season with the Spartans, the Cougars lost the first and then rattled off three consecutive wins.

The Spartans also feature a roster with 16 true freshmen, but they have not enjoyed much success. They are 9-27 and 1-18 on the road.

The Spartans are batting .238 as a team, and have surrendered almost double the runs they have scored. Sophomore Brett Bautista leads the team in hits (39), and senior Andre Mercurio has driven in the most runs this season for the Spartans (19).

Three pitchers have at least six starts under their belt for the Spartans. Senior Kalei Contrades has started the most games (10), but opposing hitters have knocked eight homers off him and have a .266 batting average against him. Contrades' ERA is 4.23 to go with his 3-6 record.

The others with at least six starts own ERA's above 4.50 and are a combined 2-7.

The games on Thursday and Friday begin at 6 p.m. On Saturday, first pitch is set for 2 p.m. The series finale on Sunday is set for noon. These are the final games of a nine-game homestand for the Cougars. They are 4-1 since returning to Bailey-Brayton Field.

  • WSU's Joe Pistorese earned the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honor for the second consecutive week after tossing a complete-game victory over Washington. He is 5-3 with a 2.73 ERA in nine starts. Opposing hitters are batting .236 against the lefty. He has the second-most strikeouts on the staff, behind fellow left-hander Matt Bower who has 42.

  • Senior Ian Sagdal continues to tear it up at the plate. He leads the team in batting average (.325), hits (39), runs (22), home runs (3), slugging percentage (.508), and on-base percentage (.414).

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