The first three weeks of the baseball season have been a struggle for the Fresno State Bulldogs’ bullpen, which is the home to more than a few bloated earned run averages. But on Sunday, in a 14-3 victory over USC at Beiden Field, it got a jolt from former Bullard High star Blake Quinn.
In his first appearance of the season, the freshman right-hander struck out five of the six batters that he faced working the eighth and ninth innings and Coach Mike Batesole said he could get a chance to move up into situations that have been a big problems in the ‘Dogs 3-7 start.
‘’He certainly took a step forward and we had a couple guys, let’s be honest, take a step backward,’’ Batesole said. ‘’When I sit down with (pitching coach Steve Rousey) to talk about the pitching for next weekend it’s very possible that some guys jumped up and some guys took a step back.’’
In striking out five of the six batters that he faced – two in the eighth and three in the ninth – Quinn in two innings now has more strikeouts than Garrett Mundell has in 5 1/3 innings (four) and almost as many as Tyler Linehan has in 6 2/3 innings and Aaron Gillis has in 4 2/3 innings (six).
Mundell on Sunday came in to pitch with one out in the sixth and runners at first and second, but with a 14-2 lead. Strikes would seem mandatory in that spot, but he walked the first batter that he faced, gave up a sacrifice fly and then hit a batter before getting out of the inning.
Luke Wiechec followed Mundell and gave up a hit and a walk while retiring just one batter.
The Bulldogs need sharper innings out of the bullpen as the ERAs will attest – Wiechec has a 13.50 ERA, Linehan is at 12.15, Tyler Stirewalt is at 10.80, Aaron Gillis is at 9.64, Connor Chase at 6.75, Mundell at 5.06 and Jake Shull at 4.50. The bullpen also has been tagged with five of the ‘Dogs seven losses.
‘’We’ve been waiting to get Quinn in there and the one benefit that Quinn had was some of these other young guys and tried to do too much, you’ve seen them all 92 (mph), 94, belt high, chest high, and Quinn has got to sit back and watch (Will) Munro and (Tim) Borst now … you’re still going to throw with your best velocity you can with a downward angle and with good location,’’ Batesole said.
‘’You get away from the downward angle and the location, you get ripped. I don’t care if you’re throwing 94, we’ve seen that happen to some of our guys. Instead of going out and learning that on his own, he’s had the ability to sit back and watch the other guy’s performances and learn. You saw him go out there today with good location – I’ve seen Quinn pump it in there at 92 or 93 and he wasn’t doing that today because he was throwing the ball downhill with good angle.’’
Borst put together another solid start for the Bulldogs, allowing nine hits and three runs in 5 1/3 innings. It was not without incident, but that is where he did some of his best work.
The freshman faced eight batters with a runner in scoring position and one or no outs in each of the first three innings and did not allow a run, getting out of a bases loaded jam in the third by getting Jake Hernandez to take a called third strike.
That was his only strikeout of the game, but it came at an opportune time.
‘’That when you’ve seen him and (Will Munro) at their best,’’ Batesole said. ‘’When they get in a little trouble you’ve seen them make some big pitches.’’
The Bulldogs had a meeting, players only, after they lost the first game of the series against the Trojans on Friday night, their seventh loss in eight games to open the season. There was another with Batesole on Saturday morning, and they both seemingly have refocused this team.
‘’It’s just a matter of us all coming together and right now we’re really making an effort to come through with that. We have leaders on this team who are doing a great job of getting, especially us young guys together, and really getting to play the game, really buy into the system, and play the Fresno State Bulldog way,’’ said Borst, who picked up his first college win.
‘’We started playing as a team more instead of focusing on our own individual at-bats,’’ said Aaron Judge, who went 4 for 6 on Sunday with four RBI.
‘’We decided, you know what, just go out there and play as a team, have some fun out there. That’s really sparked us and has us going out there and playing baseball again.’’
Center fielder Jordan Luplow, who left the game in the sixth inning after injuring his left shoulder, will have a MRI on Monday. The Bulldogs play San Jose State on Tuesday at Beiden Field, and Batesole said Judge likely would be in center field. ‘’You’ve seen Brody (Russell) play in the outfield, Judge has played center field obviously and done a great job and we also have (Taylor) Tempel, who went out there (Sunday), so we have some guys who can step up and take his place for a week or two hopefully,’’ Batesole said. … The 14-3 victory over the Trojans was the largest by the Bulldogs in a series that now spans 68 games. This is the first time the teams have played since 2003.