When the Cal baseball team made an improbable run at the College World Series two years ago, the young talent that unveiled itself seemed to promise success for years to come.
Pitcher Justin Jones was just a sophomore, and freshman Kyle Porter posted a 6-0 record, emerging as one of the nation’s best starters. Freshman Andrew Knapp showed glimpses of a bright future, batting .360 with runners in scoring position in limited playing time. And maybe most promising was offensive star and sophomore first baseman Devon Rodriguez, named the Most Outstanding Player at the NCAA Houston Regional.
Fast forward two years, and the Bears (21-23, 9-12 Pac-12) are not where they would like to be.
Porter has a 4.12 ERA and has only started two games for the Bears all season. His ERA is a far cry from the 1.89 ERA he posted during his impressive freshman campaign. Coach David Esquer still gives Jones chances to prove himself, but the senior left-hander has a 1-5 record and a 5.00 in 18 appearances and nine starts this season.
Knapp and Rodriguez have been strong for the Bears on offense — the two sluggers are the number one and two RBI leaders, respectively. As a junior, Knapp has led Cal in nearly every offensive category. Rodriguez, a redshirt junior, is the only Cal player who has started every game for the Bears this season despite being hampered by a dislocated shoulder that limited him to the designated hitter role for most of Cal’s games.
But heading into a three game series this weekend against No. 5 Oregon State (34-8, 14-4) at Goss Stadium, the production of Knapp and Rodriguez might not be enough to make up for the fall from grace of Porter and Jones.
The Beavers have been a powerhouse in college baseball this year, beginning with their starting pitching. Matt Boyd, Andrew Moore and Ben Wetzler will be Oregon State’s weekend starters. The trio is 12-3 with a combined 1.74 ERA in Pac-12 conference play this season. Of the 158 innings that the Beavers played in conference, those three starters have worked 124 of them. Combined, opposing batters are hitting just .198 against the three.
Oregon State has been in the top-25 rankings for 17 consecutive weeks, dating back to last season. The Beavers also head into this series tied for the best record through 42 games in program history.
Faced with overcoming the potent Oregon State offense that has scored 239 runs this season, Cal will turn to freshman Ryan Mason. Thrown into the spotlight this year when older pitchers struggled, Mason solidified his role as the Bears’ Friday starter through consistently strong performances. The right hander is 5-2 with a 3.38 ERA in eight starts and 11 appearances.
Through the struggles, Rodriguez is confident his team will pull through.
“This year, we’ve hit a couple of bumps in the road,” Rodriguez said. “We’re a real young team, but we’re going to get through it. It’s inevitable that we’re going to get out of our little funk and be back where we want to be.”
Warren Laufer covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]