When the Cal baseball team met Santa Clara last Wednesday, the Bears gave the game away in an error-riddled affair, falling 8-5 at Stephen Schott Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Since that crushing defeat extended Cal’s losing streak to four games, coach David Esquer’s club has turned things around. The Bears (19-15, 4-8 in the Pac-12) took two of three from Washington over the weekend in their first Pac-12 series win.
“After Santa Clara, we said, ‘Hey, let’s play like we got nothing to lose,’” said designated hitter Vince Bruno. “We came out on Friday and Saturday, and we just looked like a different team.
“I think we’re a better team this week than we were last week, so if we just keep playing our game, there’s no way they should beat us.”
Bruno and company will get a chance to back up that statement when Cal hosts the Broncos on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. at Evans Diamond.
While the Bears are coming in hot, Santa Clara has cooled off substantially. The Broncos (18-15) had lost three straight before conquering the Bears last week but got swept by conference foe Gonzaga this weekend.
The Broncos will look to bounce back against familiar pitchers they beat up last week for 10 hits and eight runs. The Bears anticipate filling the vacant midweek starting role with a smattering of bullpen pitchers.
Last week, Esquer started Logan Scott, a late-inning reliever. The Broncos battered Scott for four runs in the first inning, but he settled into the game in the next two innings. Relievers Chris Muse-Fisher and Michael Lowden went the rest of the way, each giving up two unearned runs.
On weekdays, the Bears have struggled to nail down a legitimate starter. With sophomore pitcher Kyle Porter out with a shoulder injury for most of the year, Michael Theofanopoulos has moved into the weekend rotation, opening up the midweek spot.
“We’re more of a pitch-by-committee team right now,” Esquer said.
In this round, however, the bullpen pitchers will be sufficiently rested for their midweek challenge. Late-inning man Joey Donofrio threw 2 1/3 innings on Friday, and Scott got the last out on Sunday; otherwise, the bullpen didn’t see any action in this weekend’s series.
Injuries have also thrown off the Cal lineup and infield. Devon Rodriguez, a junior who played first base for the squad last year and provided a big bat in the heart of the Bears’ lineup, has been out most of the year with a knee injury.
Esquer has yet to settle on a consistent batting order, but he got reliable production from his first four hitters this weekend, including second baseman Tony Renda and Bruno. Fielding, however, has continued to be a struggle for an inconsistent infield.
“We’re in a real big coping situation trying to cope with some of those losses,” Esquer said. “I think our kids for the most part are handling it, but there’s still some signs out there that we are covering some loss.”