Even three consecutive walk-off thrillers over Michigan at Evans Diamond this weekend to begin the 2013 campaign were not enough to quell the Bears’ starting pitching uncertainties.
The Bears’ top two starters, Justin Jones and Kyle Porter, both struggled in their first starts of the season.
In Friday’s season opener, the senior Jones struggled after a strong first inning, giving up four earned runs on six hits and three walks in his 3.1 innings pitched.
“You can’t live with three and a third (innings) with two starters and be able to make it through a lot of weekends,” Cal head coach David Esquer said.
Control was an issue for Jones in the second when two walks and a bunt loaded the bases with two outs before the lefty walked in the first run of the season.
The southpaw was a key to the Bears’ memorable 2011 College World Series run, but 2012 was an off-year for Jones when he went 4-9 and saw his ERA jump to 4.57.
The Bears’ bullpen came to Jones’ rescue, holding the Wolverines scoreless for the rest of the game. Sophomore Dylan Nelson added 3.2 scoreless innings and struck out three.
Cal trailed 4-3 as the game entered the ninth, but first baseman Devon Rodriguez tied up the game with his second RBI hit, sending the contest to extra innings. Junior catcher Andrew Knapp hit a bases-loaded single to win the game 5-4 in the bottom of the 11th inning.
“This was certainly an exciting season opener,” Esquer said. “It was great to see Andrew come through in the clutch.”
On Saturday, Porter gave up four runs on six hits in his 3.1 innings of work. Porter is also hoping to have a bounce-back year.
As a freshman, Porter maintained a 1.89 ERA, but like Jones, Porter struggled in 2012, posting a 5.75 ERA in only 10 games as he was hampered by an arm injury.
But once again, the Bears’ bullpen put forward a solid performance, giving up only one run in 6.2 innings.
Knapp added three RBI on two hits, including his first home run of the season. Rodriguez also had two RBIs on three hits. But the offensive hero for the Bears was junior second baseman Mike Reuvekamp, whose 10th inning single gave the Bears their second-straight win with a score of 6-5.
Cal’s starting pitching finally hit its stride Sunday, as starter Michael Theofanopoulos provided five shutout innings and struck out three. The Bears’ bullpen continued its streak of stellar pitching, allowing one run over the next four innings.
Cal celebrated yet another walk-off win after outfielder Brian Celsi hit a pitch through the right side of the infield to score freshman pinch-runner Sean Peters and win the game 2-1.
The sweep did little to subside Esquer’s fears that his starting pitching is not performing at the level that the team will need.
“A lot of it has to do with command throwing the ball where you want it,” Esquer said. “I’m not as concerned with velocity or arm health as with the type of pitchers they are.”
Warren Laufer covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]