Marbut: Cougar bats need to heat up

WASHINGTON STATE BASEBALL coach Donnie Marbut demands the best out of his players and assistant coaches, and Marbut is none too pleased with the way the Cougars have been hitting lately under the guidance of their new batting coach. Who happens to be, uh, Marbut.

"We're striking out way too much," Marbut said Monday as the Cougars prepare to kick off a five-game homestand Tuesday night at 5:30 versus Gonzaga (8-11).

The Cougars (11-5) are hitting a respectable .320, and they're scoring 7.3 runs per game.

However, after averaging 9.7 runs during a 9-0 start -- remember that 23-0 blowout of Seattle University? -- the Cougars have gone 2-5 with 4.4 runs per game against admittedly tougher opponents.

"We're not putting the ball into play enough," said Marbut, who added hitting coach duties after Travis Jewett left for Arizona State last summer. "We're pretty athletic. We've got some guys who can run a little bit. We're not ‘cloggers,' so we've got to put more pressure on the defense."

Marbut said WSU has been "a little erratic" in the field lately, but the Cougars have been impressive on the mound. Washington State's team earned run average is 4.07 -- opponents have a 6.44 ERA -- and Cougar pitchers have yielded just 148 hits and 48 walks in 139 1/3 innings while holding rivals to a .272 batting average.

"I'm really happy with our pitching … I hope we can make more plays for them," Marbut said.

Marbut is particularly pleased with the pitching in light of the fact that two of the club's top three projected starters -- sophomore David Stilley and freshman Travis Cook -- have been limited to one game apiece due to injuries.

Cook is scheduled to make his first start Tuesday. Marbut said Stilley, whose shoulder soreness returned after he started the second game of the season, could see limited duty this weekend against Cal State-Bakersfield and/or in WSU's opening Pac-10 series April 1-3 at Washington.

"He's so valuable, there's no need to rush someone like him," Marbut said.

Junior Chad Arnold, WSU's No. 1 starter, is 2-1 with a 3.82 ERA. He's struck out 25 in 30 2/3 innings, but 14 walks have been an issue.

"Our whole bullpen has really been great," Marbut said. "That three-headed monster -- Seth Harvey, Adam Conley and Paris Shewey -- has been really great."

Conley, taking over the closer role as a sophomore, is 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA and three saves in seven appearances. The hard-throwing lefty has given up just seven hits and two walks in 11 innings, and he's fanned 12.

SIX STARTERS ARE hitting better than .300, led by freshman left fielder Brett Jacobs at .439 (sixth in the Pac-10). Jacobs, the 2008 Washington Class 4A Player of the Year as a junior at Richland High School, has struck out just three times in 43 plate appearances.

"When we recruited him, we thought we had Jay Miller with power," Marbut said. "If anyone knows Cougar baseball, they know Jay Miller's name is all over the record book.

"I know I do a really bad job of putting high expectations on kids. Obviously, putting Jay's name on him is not easy for Brett.

"But," Marbut added, "he's just that type of hitter. I mean, he can hit. He's been hitting since he came out of the womb, so there's no reason for him to stop now."

Right fielder Derek Jones, who topped WSU with 12 home runs as a freshman last year, leads the Cougars and is tied for fifth in the Pac-10 with four homers this season. He's boosted his batting average to .295 after hitting .223 last year, and he's cut down on his strikeouts (10 in 61 at-bats).

"Yeah, they're down, but they're not good enough," Marbut said. "They're not close to being good enough.

"To a man, every one of our starters except for Jacobs is striking out too much. Every one."

Obviously, Marbut is pushing his players to be the best they can be in time for Pac-10 play. The Cougars came in second last year and advanced to the NCAA regionals for the first time in 19 years, but one of the three major college baseball polls (Collegiate Baseball) had three Pac-10 teams in the Top 10 Monday -- No. 1 Arizona State (20-0), No. 6 UCLA (16-0) and No. 9 Oregon State (14-3). Arizona (No. 19) and Stanford (No. 26) also cracked the Top 30. Washington State was briefly ranked No. 25 earlier this month, built in part on their 9-0 start, but have fallen out of the polls with the 2-5 slide.

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