Struggling Cal baseball team returns home, battles Fresno State

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For the Cal baseball team, there truly is no place like home.

After beginning the season with three consecutive walk off wins over Michigan at Evans Diamond, the Bears have struggled through two rough weeks on the road, winning just two of their nine games on the road since the opening series.

The Bears (5-7) will look to get back on the right track at home this weekend when the Fresno State Bulldogs (3-8) comes to Berkeley for a four-game series, starting the series Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at Evans Diamond.

Of many of Cal’s problems, its inconsistent pitching has been the biggest plague, and the Bears still seem to be without a solution. Of the three top pitchers who started the first series of the season, senior Justin Jones is the only one projected to start this series. The lefty will take the mound today in an attempt to lower his 6.36 ERA and secure his first win of the season.

The Bears will send freshman right-hander Ryan Mason (2-0, 3.60 ERA) to the hill on Friday, and sophomore righty Dylan Nelson (0-0, 0.68 ERA) will get the start on Saturday. Cal head coach David Esquer has not yet announced a starter for Sunday’s series finale.

The Bears will continue to count on junior designated hitter Devon Rodriguez, who is batting .356 with three doubles this season. Rodriguez sat out most of the 2012 season with a right knee injury after contributing to the Bears’ College World Series run in 2011.

Junior catcher Andrew Knapp and sophomore third baseman Chris Paul will also be relied on to carry some of the offensive burden.

Knapp has hit the Bears’ only two home runs of the season and has also added nine RBIs to his .313 batting average. His best performance of the season came on Monday against Houston when he went 4-5 with a double and a home run.

Paul provided 7 RBIs last weekend, but his batting average fell to .250 at the Astros Foundation College Classic, which features some of the best teams in the country like No. 1 North Carolina and No. 22 Rice.

For Cal, Fresno State will be an easier opponent than usual. The Bulldogs are coming off of a 10-3 loss to San Jose State at home on Tuesday night. Freshman Brody Russell hit his first career home run in that game to lead off the bottom of the third inning.

Fresno State has regularly had trouble scoring runs but has capitalized on rare chances, beating UC Santa Barbara, 8-1, to open the season and defeating USC, 5-1 and 14-3, on consecutive days.

Starting pitching has been inconsistent for Fresno State, and the bullpen has been even less reliable. However, the glimpses of brilliance against USC showed that the Bulldogs are a very strong team when they can stay consistent.

“We need to find a rhythm on offense and in the bullpen,” Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said to Fresno State Athletics. “We’ve given guys a chance, and they haven’t answered the bell.”

Both squads are in search of consistency. If either side finds it this weekend, this series could be somewhere to start building some momentum for the season.

Warren Laufer covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]