Cal expects pitching battle against USC

Michael Tao/File
Senior righty Joey Donofrio has accumulated a 3-0 record and a 2.00 ERA this season.

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For the first time, the Cal baseball team will see Dan Hubbs in colors other than blue and gold.

Hubbs served as head coach David Esquer’s pitching coach for 12 years before accepting an associate coaching position at his alma mater, USC, this season.

On Thursday, the pitchers he recruited and cultivated will share Dedeaux Field in Los Angeles, Calif., but will be in opposing dugouts for the Bears’ 6 p.m. tilt with the Trojans.

“I know with Hubby there, the pitchers will get the job done,” said closer Logan Scott. “It’s going to be a battle all weekend.”

During his time at Cal, the highly-respected coach produced consistently strong pitching staffs, including last year’s squad that finished with a 2.90 ERA and 11 shutouts.

As expected given its inexperience this season, the young array of pitchers guided by first-year pitching coach Mike Neu is not putting up nearly the same numbers. The thin staff currently holds a 3.83 ERA, and senior Matt Flemer, averaging 2.68 ERA in seven starts, is the lone starter with an ERA under 3.5. Most surprisingly, left-hander Justin Jones has looked like a shadow of his former self, currently holding a 2-4 record with a 5.45 ERA, compared to his 2.93 mark last season.

The stakes are high this weekend, with last-place Cal (16-10, 1-5 in the Pac-12) looking to win its first conference series against a middle-of-the-pack USC (17-9, 3-4) squad. After rough outings for Jones and sophomore Kyle Porter against Texas this past weekend, Neu will be shifting the starting rotation according to Scott.

“We’re not really sure what (the starting rotation) is yet, but I think it’ll be a little bit different,” the closer said. “Normally it’s set, but you just kind of go with it. Guys gotta be ready.”

The bullpen had struggled heading into last weekend’s series but came out with a signature performance. Porter exited after 1 1/3 innings, and five relievers stitched together a stellar performance. Joey Donofrio led the way with 2 1/3 innings of one-hit ball for the win, and Scott threw the last two innings in the 6-5 victory.

“Sunday was probably the biggest win we’ve had since the playoffs last year,” Scott said. “We needed guys to step up … I think it’s something we can build on for our bullpen.”

The offense did its part, coming back to score after Texas tied the game in the second and fourth innings. Outfielder Chad Bunting said that the key was getting on the board early against the Longhorns. The Bears look to continue that trend against a Trojans’ pitching staff that holds its opponents to a .251 batting average.

Scoring early will be particularly important given the strength of USC’s bullpen. In Tuesday’s 5-4 win over Pepperdine, the Trojans shut out the Waves in the final four innings. Closer Martin Viramontes didn’t give up a single hit in the last two frames to earn the save.

“We have a lineup that can get it going at any point in the game,” Bunting said. “But it’s obviously a big upside if we can get those guys on (base) early in the game for the middle of our lineup.”