Cal baseball faces pitching struggles as it loses two against Utah

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It’s now clear that letting up 24 runs in a one-off game against Saint Mary’s this week was an omen of pitching woes to come in Cal baseball’s weekend series against Utah. A series sweep against Arizona State two weekends ago came on the back of excellent pitching, and the Bears’ dismal performances against the Gaels should have been a sign that the guys on the mound weren’t likely going to be a strength for Cal against the Utes. Cal won one and lost two, barely avoiding a series sweep, and it let up more than 10 runs per game on the way.

Freshman Jared Horn was on the bump to start game one of the series, and beforehand it looked like he was starting a season surge that would live up to his high pedigree as a high school recruit (top-five right handed pitcher per Perfect Game). After good performances against UCLA, Washington State and Arizona State, allowing one earned run in 17 innings, another impressive outing against the Utes would have gone a long way to solidifying the idea that he’s a future Bear ace. After a mediocre outing, there’s again room for some doubt.

Horn went for a little over six innings, allowing four runs on a concerning 11 hits. The peripherals were poor beyond how hard he was hit. Horn reverted to his early season trends of struggling with control and failing to create whiffs, walking five and striking out two. The Utes score eight runs in the first six innings and closed out a 9-3 win after allowing two Bears to cross home plate in the top of the ninth.

In game two, sophomore Joey Matulovich’s pitch to contact approach worked a little too well, and Cal suffered another embarrassingly early exit from their starter, something that has become commonplace on the road this season. After needing 48 pitches to get four outs, Matulovich’s line ended with eight earned runs on seven hits. Junior Zayne Patino hardly helped to stop the bleeding in the bottom the second, the Utes ended up with 11 runs in the frame.

The offense scored three runs in both the top of the second and the fourth, but it takes a lot more than that to make up for an 11-run inning. Utah took the game with a final score of 16-8, as none of the other three pitchers the Bears threw out after Patino could avoid letting up an earned run either.

Junior Matt Ladrech came into game three having allowed two earned runs in 20 innings of work this season, but after a 5.1 IP, five ER performance, his ERA nearly tripled. This time, however, the bullpen kept the game in check, and the offense broke through in the late innings to stave off a sweep. The Bears were down 7-4 going into the sixth inning, and methodically scored a run in each of the next four innings to get an 8-7 win. Junior Erik Martinez, who has been consistently excellent this season, gave one of his best and most important efforts of the season. He pitched more than three innings, striking out five while no Ute crossed the plate. Junior Tanner Dodson came on for a one-out save, but there’s no doubt Martinez was the hero of the day.

Freshman Andrew Vaughn has consistently been the best hitter in Cal’s lineup, but had a quite series this time around, finishing with two hits in 12 at bats. Junior Preston Grand Pre came to bat for the first time in 2017 after suffering a broken hand shortly before the start of the season. After posting three hits in 10 at bats and scoring four runs on the weekend, it looks like he could be a crucial veteran down the stretch. If the pitching staff keeps this sort of performance up, Cal’s lineup will need all the firepower it can get.

Andrew Wild is the assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @andrewwild17.