William Munro had known for a couple of days that he would make the start on Friday, when the Fresno State Bulldogs opened the season against UC Santa Barbara, and by the time he made it out to the mound the butterflies had plenty of time to go from larva to pupa to sprouting some really big wings.
Nervous? Yes, Munro, a sophomore who had logged just 32 career innings for the ‘Dogs, was nervous. ”Lots,” he said.
But he got some comforting words from catcher Austin Wynns and first baseman Trent Garrison, the only two seniors on the team, in the dugout right before going out and throwing five scoreless innings in the Bulldogs’ 8-1 victory at Beiden Field.
‘’What really calmed me down was the fact that Wynns and Trent were both nervous and they told me that after the anthem,’’ Munro said. ‘’It was good to know I wasn’t the only one. But, definitely having Wynns back behind the plate definitely helps – there’s nothing to worry about, so there’s no reason to be nervous. That calmed me down right away.’’
Munro had command of his pitches from the start, throwing first-pitch strikes and getting ahead of the Gauchos’ hitters. He got through the first two innings easily enough and when facing a mild challenge in the third with a runner at third and one out, working with a 2-0 lead, he struck out Cameron Newell looking and Parker Miles swinging. Newell is the Gauchos’ leadoff hitter.
Then in the fourth, UCSB loaded the bases with two one-out walks and a sharp single to right. But Munro got Robby Nesovic to line into a double play to shortstop Chris Mariscal.
‘’Big stepping stone for him,’’ Wynns said. ‘’He’s going to do better next time. That’s the process – everyone has to keep getting better and better.
‘’He got that first-pitch strike and worked from there. He kept them off balance with his off-speed stuff. He did a great job. (Pitching coach Steve Rousey) did a great job calling the game.’’
BATESOLE ON MUNRO
Coach Mike Batesole on Munro: ‘’He’s grown up. How many guys play varsity baseball in high school when they are freshmen? Very few. That’s the same thing here. When a freshman is playing and playing a lot, that’s a rare talent. He got his chances last year, I think he had 30-some innings, and he handled them like a freshman. Now he’s not a freshman anymore and he’s doing what we expected him to do.
‘’He’s one of the best pitchers in San Diego high school history and so when we signed him we expected him sophomore and junior year to be a weekend starter and then probably away he goes after that. For one night, he’s right on schedule.’’
JUDGE OFF TO SLOW START
Aaron Judge, the Bulldogs’ preseason All-American, had a rough start to the season. He went 0 for 5, taking a called third strike with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning and another called third strike in his next at-bat with one out and a runner at second base. He also struck out in the eighth with a runner on base.
Judge did not strike out three times in a game all last season.
There was a point midway through last season that the Fresno State hitters couldn’t work a count, were going down meekly in a lot of at-bats, swinging at first pitches in and out of the strike zone.
There were some hard-learned lessons there, which paid off when the Bulldogs pulled things together in May and made a run through the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and into the NCAA Tournament.
And they carried over, the Bulldogs taking some very good at-bats against UC Santa Barbara left-hander Andrew Vasquez and right-hander Jared Wilson, a fifth-year senior.
Sophomore left fielder Jordan Brink went 0 for2 but had some of the best, reaching base twice on walks, and in his four plate appearances saw 27 pitches, 6.8 per.
His first two plate appearances were against Alvarez, a lefty-on lefty matchup.
‘’We went through a lot of pain and suffering last February and March,’’ Batesole said. ‘’Those freshmen were fighting their way through it and the last four or five weeks of the season they played very well. But at the beginning, you remember the struggles they went through.
‘’That’s why we let them do it. That’s why Brink played against all those left-hander last year, so when he’s a sophomore and junior he can handle it. That’s called growing pains, right?’’