Shortstop Mike Reuvekamp could not take it any longer. On March 15, against UCLA, the senior had to come out of the game due to a broken hamate bone he had suffered in the opening series of the season against Texas.
The fiery fifth-year player would be sorely missed for the next month of the season, as the team would post a 6-13 record in his absence.
“When Reuvekamp went out, that was a big blow to us,” said coach David Esquer. “His spirit and energy are big to our team. We had won all our games against the big opponents with Reuvekamp in there. He was the heart and soul of our team, and we had lost that.”
But Reuvekamp is finally coming back — just in time for the biggest series of the year. This weekend, Cal baseball will travel to Stanford to face the Cardinal (17-17, 6-9 in Pac-12) in a three-game series starting Saturday night. Having the shortstop back will be a plus for the Bears (16-20, 5-10 in Pac-12), who need to take at least two games from their rival to keep their slim postseason hopes alive.
In a month in which Cal has seen such a precipitous drop to second-to-last place in the Pac-12 standings, the Bears have lacked an identity.
“We have been wandering ever since Reuvekamp went down, trying to figure out the best way to go,” Esquer said. “So we tried some different lineups.”
In Reuvekamp’s absence, Esquer moved junior utility player Derek Campbell from right field to shortstop. Yet, while Campbell had done a solid job at shortstop, up-and-down play from his teammates has prompted the coaching staff to change the lineup often.
After losing two of three to Arizona State, Esquer decided it was time to develop his younger players, hoping to get that spark that had been missing. The freshmen Aaron Knapp, Robbie Tenerowicz and Lucas Erceg have taken advantage of their opportunity, adding youth to the team through their aggressive play.
With both Reuvekamp and the freshmen in the lineup for the first time together against Stanford, the squad plans on getting a different result than the 11-1 beatdown it received in Berkeley onMarch 4.
“Last time they came here, they gave it to us pretty good,” said designated hitter Devon Rodriguez. “It’s just one of those games where they weren’t missing the barrel. We weren’t able to catch our footing, so we just have to throw it away and forget about it.”
Last time, the Stanford offense took advantage of a poor outing by starter Michael Theofanopoulos in the nonconference midweek game. This time, because it is a conference series, both rotations will be using their top three starters. Cal will go with freshman Daulton Jefferies, senior Kyle Porter and sophomore Ryan Mason.
The Bears are looking to win their first Pac-12 series since sweeping bottom-dwelling Utah in the last weekend of March. While this weekend may yield the best Cal lineup since the beginning of the season, there is no time for growing pains as the postseason fast approaches.
“We are still alive, but we have to make a big run at the end,” Rodriguez said. “We just have to start winning games because they have been there for the taking. The Stanford series is not do or die, but it’s a big series for us.”
Austin Crochetiere covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].