Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Pitching Pains


By Don Hudson

If pain is the price paid for life's lessons, the tuition was raised last night on the Titans' pitching staff in losing to TCU, 8-6. We entered the season knowing that pitching is a work-in-process and that our patience would be tested - did we have to get a pop quiz the second day of class?

Kyle Witten clearly did not have his best stuff from the game's onset. Leadoff man Ben Carruthers stroked an 0-2 pitch into the gap past a diving Khris Davis. Josh Fellhauer made a nice play cutting the ball off and making a great throw to second to nail Carruthers attempting to stretch it into a double. The second batter hit a moon shot that Felly caught against the wall deep in center field, while Jeff Newman made a nice grab of a sizzling line drive to end the inning.

After a scoreless bottom of the first inning, Witten's first pitch was hammered on a line to left field, with Newman making another nice shoestring grab. Four batters and four outs - but the tone was set. The Titans struck for the game's first run in the bottom of the second on Khris Davis' home run that appeared to skim the top of the fence and off the scoreboard.

Witten allowed a single and a wild pitch in the third inning, but he stranded a Horned Frog at third base to end the frame. His shutout ended in the fourth inning: following a single, double and HBP, Witten uncorked a wild pitch to tie the game at one apiece. TCU took a 2-1 lead on a sacrifice fly.

As they did every time the Frogs scored on Friday night, the Titans' offense immediately bounced back. Davis led off with a sharp single, stole second base and scored on a double to right field by Nick Ramirez, who gave the Titans a 3-2 lead following a wild pitch and ground-out by Joe Scott.

The Frogs knocked Witten from the box with just one out in the fifth inning following two doubles and a single that gave TCU a 4-3 lead. Michael Morrison entered the game and looked sharp, striking out two after plunking the first batter he faced.

When Morrison pitched a crisp 1-2-3 sixth inning, it looked like the storm had passed and things had settled down. Au contraire, mon frere: this was the dreaded Saturday night special about to unfold. After the Titans tied the score at 4-4 in the last of the sixth on a Felly bunt single and another sharp double by Nick Ramirez, Carruthers led off with a single (0-2 pitch) to left field and Morrison's control appeared to disappear on a four-pitch walk. Things looked up when Garneau caught the lead runner at third base on the front end of an attempted double steal, but Chris Ellington tied the score on a double (1-2 pitch) over the third base bag.

Tie score, runner on second, one out: pretty easy decision, eh? Intentionally walk the next hitter (Curry) and set up the double play situation. Unfortunately, Morrison's first offering on the intentional walk sailed way over Garneau's head and Ellington advanced to third on the wild pitch. The second pitch came all too close to the plate and crossed up Garneau, also sailing to the backstop. (Fortunately, the ball ricocheted favorably for Fullerton and the runner could not advance.) Morrison struck out the next hitter following the IBB, but he uncorked another wild pitch to give TCU a 6-4 lead.

The Titans' offense responded with a run in the bottom of the seventh on a Gary Brown triple and RBI grounder by Newman, who reached on an error. TCU worked out of the jam by inducing a double-play ball from Colon and a Clark strikeout.

Kevin Rath took the bump for Fullerton in the eighth inning and he surrendered a run on a walk, two groundouts and a single by Carruthers: his third hit of the evening on 0-2 pitches.

Trailing 7-5 entering their half of the eighth inning, the Titans scored once on a single and two stolen bases by Fellhauer (I would have ruled the second one "defensive indifference") and an error.

Rath came out for the ninth inning, charged with maintaining the one run deficit. He walked the leadoff man and was aided by a pretty 'round-the-horn double play started by Brown and turned nicely by Shima. Unfortunately, the momentum of the douple-play was short-lived, as Matt Curry drove Rath's next pitch over the fence, the trees and the 57 Freeway. The Titans went quietly in the ninth inning to absorb their first loss of the season by a score of 8-6.


So what did we learn last night?

The pitching staff still has a long way to go. Witten was hit hard and he and Morrison each had two wild pitches. Two balls thrown off the backstop during an intentional walk. Five hits (out of TCU's eleven) were on 0-2 or 1-2 counts. Five walks and three hit batsmen. Zeros in just four of the nine innings pitched.

The offense has some work to do also. There were twelve strikeouts last night and some very feeble swings chasing pitches far out of the strike zone.

On the positive side, Nick Ramirez continues to crush the ball (6-8 in two games); Felly also has five hits already. After his four-whiff night Friday, it was great to see Khris Davis come out Saturday with a homer and single: he is batting 1.000 when he puts the ball in play. Garneau threw out a couple would-be base stealers and both Fellhauer and Newman made a couple good defensive plays in the outfield.

I'm really looking forward to today's battle of heralded freshmen pitchers. Let's win today and take something positive into our upcoming games against San Diego State and Stanford.

1 comment:

JimB said...

Nice recap, Don. I do think we might be overrated at No. 5. This team has a lot to improve.