Cougar Baseball Notebook: Praise & criticism

PULLMAN -- Washington State baseball coach Donnie Marbut is not one to straddle the fence on too many subjects. If Marbut thinks someone deserves a compliment, he is glowing with his praise. If he thinks someone deserves to be ripped, Marbut gladly wields the verbal sledgehammer.

When the subject turns to junior pitcher Chad Arnold and freshman left fielder Brett Jacobs, Marbut offers nothing but praise. At the same time, Marbut does not hesitate to criticize himself for putting too much pressure on Arnold as a freshman.

Hindsight being 20/20, Marbut might have a point. Of course, Marbut doesn't mention the fact that he has placed considerable pressure on Jacobs as a freshman, and Jacobs has responded by leading the Cougars with a .406 batting average (third in the Pac-10).

Alas, no one ever said coaching is an exact science. Jacobs' banner season has helped provide enough offensive support to reward fellow Tri-Cities native Arnold for his emergence as one of the premier pitchers in the Pac-10.

ARNOLD WAS NAMED Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week after he threw his second consecutive complete game last Friday to beat then-No. 22 Oregon State 5-1. Arnold is 4-2 with a 3.03 earned run average in 10 games (all starts), with a league-leading three complete games, 55 strikeouts, 28 walks and 55 hits allowed in 68 2/3 innings.

"It's been just great to watch the maturation with Chad over the past four years," Marbut said.

"I just think it's a confidence factor," Arnold said. "It's my third year pitching at Washington State and in the Pac-10. It's all come together. I've been working hard."

ARNOLD WAS SUCH a dominant pitcher at Southridge High, and the Cougars were so desperate for pitching, that Marbut tried to make Arnold WSU's No. 1 starter as a redshirt freshman. Arnold had sat out a year while recovering from "Tommy John" elbow ligament replacement surgery for a high school injury, and he wasn't ready physically or mentally to be a No. 1 starter in the Pac-10.

"It's my fault," Marbut said. "We just shoved him out there. It was unfair."

Arnold's confidence took a beating, not to mention his statistics (2-7, 7.67).

"It was a struggle, I'm not going to lie," Arnold said. "It was tough, at times going out and not knowing where you were going to throw the ball. I was still trying to get a feel for things.

"It was a lot of pressure at first, pitching on Fridays on top of the fact this is the first time you're actually competitively throwing in 18 months...At the same time, I feel it helped me, too. In a way, it prepared me for the forthcoming years."

ARNOLD IMPROVED SUBSTANTIALLY last year (8-3, 4.39). He finished strong to tie senior Matt May (Philadelphia's fifth-round draft pick last June) for the team lead in wins and helped the Cougars take second in the Pac-10 and advance to the NCAA regionals for the first time in 19 years.

Marbut predicts Arnold, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-hander, will be drafted in the first 10 rounds in June. Arnold plans to pass up his senior year to turn pro, and Marbut supports him.

"He's so confident," Marbut said, "and he's so prepared."

MARBUT COULD JUST as easily have been describing Jacobs. Marbut has occasionally batted Jacobs third or fourth, and what Jacobs lacks in power (nine doubles are his only extra-base hits) he makes up for by hitting .458 with men on base and two out and .444 with runners in scoring position and two out.

"I'm getting more comfortable every day … I'm feeling pretty good at the plate," Jacobs said.

Jacobs has always been a good hitter, and he was the Washington high school player of the year as a junior at Richland. Jacobs' .406 average as a college freshman is particularly impressive in that he is playing left field for the first time in his life.

Jacobs played shortstop and pitched growing up, but his right arm has never fully recovered from the partially torn labrum he suffered as a high school junior. Marbut said the 6-foot, 171-pound Jacobs could wind up at second base or first base in the future, but Marbut put Jacobs in left field last fall and left him there.

"I'm confident now," Jacobs said. "Sometimes, I get a little nervous because I'm still thinking too much from that U-Dub thing."

OH YES -- THAT U-Dub thing. With two out in the bottom of the ninth in WSU's Pac-10 opener, Jacobs dropped a shallow fly ball, allowing Washington to score the tying and winning runs in a 3-2 win.

"That," Jacobs said softly, "was a tough deal."

Marbut sat Jacobs the following game, then put him back in the starting lineup the next day. Jacobs singled his first time up, stole second and scored, and he hasn't slowed down since. He has by far the fewest strikeouts (11 in 101 at bats) among Cougar regulars, and he's threatening the WSU freshman hitting record of .401, set by Jared Prince in 2006.

"Brett is just a real good competitor," Marbut said. "He knows how to hit...He just keeps getting better every day. Brett just keeps working at it. You're going to see that guy get a lot of hits in the future at Washington State."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Right fielder Derek Jones, who has twice as many home runs (eight) as any other Cougar, is expected to miss two to four weeks with a left hand fracture suffered when he was hit by a pitch Friday.

  • Second baseman Cody Bartlett, WSU's No. 9 hitter, is second on the team in hitting at .340. Bartlett went 6-for-10 with five extra-base hits and five RBIs in three games against Oregon State last weekend.

  • First baseman Michael Weber, batting .333 overall, leads the Cougars in Pac-10 play with a .375 average (seventh in the league).

  • Junior catcher Jay Ponciano, who hit .352 last year and played a key role in the drive to regionals, is batting .186 with no home runs and six RBIs.

  • The Cougars are 21-15 overall and tied for seventh with Washington in the Pac-10 at 5-7. WSU visits 17th-ranked Oregon (27-13, 8-7) this weekend. The Ducks, who reinstated their baseball program last year, are locked in a three-way tie for fourth.

  • The Cougars are still looking for a solid No. 3 starter. Freshman Travis Cook (0-3, 6.52) lasted just two-thirds of an inning in Sunday's 3-2 loss.


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