Thursday, May 6, 2010

UC Riverside Series Preview

By FullertonBaseballFan

Cal State Fullerton (27-14, 12-3) had another good week last week with a comeback win at San Diego that was highlighted by a game winning grand slam by Carlos Lopez and a series win at Pacific last weekend. The Titans won the first two games against the Tigers to stretch their winning streak to nine games before dropping the final game of the series. Fullerton’s bats were on fire again last week and they are hitting .393 and averaging over ten runs a game over the last ten games. The hottest hitters for the Titans were Corey Jones (8-15, 1 HR, 7 RBI), Nick Ramirez (8-19, 0 HR, 6 RBI), Richie Pedroza (8-18, 0 HR, 4 RBI), Gary Brown (7-17, 0 HR, 1 RBI) and Christian Colon (6-17, 0 HR, 6 RBI).

Fullerton’s pitchers struggled in three of the four games but the big story last week was the emergence of FR Dylan Floro, who followed up a good week against Pepperdine (win) and Cal Poly (save) with an outstanding Friday night start at Pacific when he allowed only two unearned runs on 3 H and 1 BB with 8 K’s. The Titans are now in very good shape in the Big West race with road series wins over two contenders (UC Irvine and Pacific) with the only team left that can catch Fullerton that they haven’t played yet coming into Goodwin Field this weekend – the UC Riverside Highlanders.

UC Riverside (23-15, 7-5) won the Big West in 2007, had a rebuilding year in 2008 when they were well under .500 and improved last year to 33-21 and 4th place in the conference. The Highlanders come into this series one game behind second place Irvine and they won 7 of 8 games before losing on Tuesday at San Diego. Riverside won conference series at home against Cal Poly and Long Beach and at UCSB with their lone series loss coming at Pacific. The Highlanders are going to have trouble making it into a regional as an at-large with a 71 RPI after a non-conference schedule of series against BYU, LMU, USF, St. Mary’s and Cal State Bakersfield. Riverside has a very experienced lineup that lost only one player (CF Carl Uhl) from last season but had to rebuild their pitching staff with only three pitchers returning who threw at least 30 innings in 2009.


Riverside is a team that has an interesting approach at the plate. The Highlanders have hit 40 HR’s (trailing only Fullerton) and have already passed last season’s total of 37 HR’s that was 6th in the conference. Riverside doesn’t strike out much for a team that focuses on hitting for power (2nd in the Big West in SLG) and averages under 6 K’s per game (3rd fewest in the Big West) but they aren’t patient at the plate either because they are last in the conference in walks – they sit on pitches they are looking for and square them up early in the count. The Highlanders are 6th in the conf with a .297 AVG, last in OBP and have scored the second fewest runs in the conference but they have been hot lately and have scored 5+ runs in 10 of their last 11 games. Riverside does not play much little ball and they are last in the Big West with 18 SAC’s and 14 SB’s.

Riverside was the third best fielding team in the Big West in 2009 with a .970 FLD % and 65 errors. The Highlanders expected to have a good fielding team again this season and they are 3rd in the conference with a .971 FLD % and have made 42 errors, the fewest in the Big West, although they have made ten errors in their last six games. Their middle infielders have solid range but have made 21 errors. They have good defense in CF and RF but have been using DH types in LF. Riverside does have a very good catcher who will make it tough on baserunners.


Similar to Pacific last week, Riverside had returning starters at all five positions but lost their one returning all-conf player in the infield (3B Ryan Goetz) to a knee injury early this season.

C – Soph #11 Robert Brantly (LH – .338/.408/.537, 5-26-0; ’09 – .316/.344/.454, 4-23-0) is the cleanup hitter, one of the better C’s on the west coast and is expected to be drafted in the first few rounds next month as a draft eligible Soph. He is on a ten game hitting streak during which he is hitting .425. Brantly does a solid job of working with the pitching staff, blocking pitches and throwing out baserunners (21-35 SB’s and three pickoffs). He went 1-7 in last year’s series against Fullerton. JR #9 Dan Pellegrino (RH – .282 in 39 AB’s with 2 HR’s, 6 RBI’s) is a solid backup who would be starting for many teams and might see time behind the plate in one game with Brantly moving to DH. He is 6-19 in his career against Fullerton.

1B – SR #16 Brian McConkey (LH – .324/.385/.507, 1-20-1; ’09 – .256/.384/.314, 0-17-2) is unusual for a 1B because he has mostly gap power and he is a leadoff hitter without much speed. He has been one of the better hitters on the team during Big West games with a .352 AVG and had a six game hitting streak snapped at San Diego. McConkey does a good job defensively and moves well around the 1B bag. He went 0-7 in last year’s series with Fullerton.

2B – SR #1 Brian Horst (RH – .261/.297/.377, 3-18-0; ’09 - .227/.306/.297, 1-14-4) is in the lineup primarily for his defense and will usually hit 8th. Horst has good range (started most of the non-conf season at SS in 2008 before getting hurt) and made only 7 E’s last year for a .969 FLD % but has struggled some this year and already made 10 E’s for a .948 FLD %. He went 1-7 in last year’s series with Fullerton.

SS – JR #10 Trevor Hairgrove (RH – .271/.356/.466, 4-19-0; ’09 – .251/.343/.371, 2-29-3) was hitting well over .300 going into the conf season last year but struggled in Big West games, when he hit only .145. Hairgrove has hit a little better this year and is 9-25 in his last six games but is in the lineup primarily for his defense and usually hits 9th. He has solid range at SS and is 4th in the conf in assists but has made 11 E’s this season. Hairgrove went 1-10 in last year’s series and is 6-23 in his career against Fullerton.

3B – Soph #24 Eddie Young (LH – .263/.340/.363, 0-14-1; ’09 – .250 in 24 AB’s) was expected to be a reserve infielder with 1st team all-conf 3B Ryan Goetz returning but he injured his knee early in the year and Young was thrust into the lineup. He is part of a platoon with Soph #5 Trent Jemmett (RH – .271 in 48 AB’s with 2 HR’s; ’09 – .136 in 22 AB’s) but Young should start all three games with Fullerton’s RHP heavy rotation and batting 7th. Young has not fielded well and has a .914 FLD %.


Carl Uhl was a three year starter in CF but he graduated, with one of the other OF’s moving over to CF and one of last year’s reserves moving into the lineup and being one of the most surprising hitters in the conference.

LF – JR #33 Justin Shults (LH – .385/.447/.726, 9-34-0; ’09 stats – .310 in 56 AB’s) was a reserve in 2009 who didn’t see much playing time but took advantage of his chance this year and has been mashing the ball while usually hitting 5th. He is the conf leader in SLG, 3rd in HR, 4th in AVG and 6th in OBP. Shults had a seven game stretch before last weekend where he went 15-27 with 6 HR and 14 RBI but has cooled off in his last four games, going 3-15.

CF – JR #15 Tony Nix (RH – .270/.353/.460, 3-14-2; ’09 – .318/.356/.514, 4-39-10) started in LF in 2009 and moved over to CF this year. He was on fire and hitting well over .400 going into the Big West schedule last season but came back to reality during conf games and only hit .208 against Big West pitching. Nix got off to a slow start and missed some time with injuries but has started to hit better and is 7-21 with 2 HR’s in his last five games and will usually hit 6th. He has solid range in CF. Nix went 1-11 in last year’s series against Fullerton.

RF – SR #3 Joey Gonzales (LH – .275/.338/.412, 3-16-6; ’09 – .261/.328/.418, 5-23-6) is one of the most experience players in the conference as a four year starter and was the Big West FR of the Year in 2007 and 2nd team all-conf in 2008 when he hit .330 with 15 SB’s. He struggled with minor injuries last season and got off to a slow start this year but has gotten hot and is on a ten game hitting streak, hitting .381 with 10 HR’s. Gonzales will usually hit 2nd and is the one SB threat in the lineup with nearly half of the team’s SB’s. He has good range in RF and played CF when Nix was out of the lineup. Gonzales went 1-9 in last year’s series and is 9-37 with one HR in his career against Fullerton.

DH – SR #25 Michael Hur (RH – .331/.386/.547, 6-29-2; ’09 stats – .372/.426/.583, 7-52-1) was 1st team all conf in 2009 after hitting .398 with 4 HR’s and 30 RBI in Big West games and was in the top ten in the conf in AVG, SLG and RBI. He will usually hit 3rd, is one of the most dangerous hitters in the lineup and went 6-13 last weekend at UCSB. Hur isn’t a good OF and will occasionally play LF. He went 2-10 in last year’s series with Fullerton and had a game winning 3 run HR in the Friday game.


Riverside had the most improved pitching staff in the Big West in 2009 with the team ERA coming down almost two runs to 4.22, which was 2nd in the conference, and the staff allowed the fewest walks and HR’s in the Big West and had the 2nd best opponents AVG at .275. Most of the pitchers who were responsible for putting up those numbers were drafted, leaving only one SP/RP and two RP’s returning from that staff, and the staff ERA has gone up about a run to 5.26. Those three returning pitchers have done a good job in the weekend rotation with a 15-8 record and a 4.02 ERA but the rest of the staff has struggled with a 7.11 ERA. The Riverside staff is once again doing a good job of throwing strikes (2nd in the conf in walks) and keeping the ball in the yard (fewest HR allowed) but they don’t have overpowering stuff, pitch to contact and are next to last in the conference in K’s and opponents AVG at .310.


Fri – Soph #35 Matt Andriese (RHP – 4-3, 4.68 ERA, 10 starts, 2 CG, 73 IP, 91 H, 10 BB, 54 K, .307 BA, 4 HR, 4 HBP, 4 WP) was the only SP returning from last year (’09 stats – 5-4, 3.93 ERA, 14 apps, 8 starts, 66 IP, 65 H, 20 BB, 37 K, .257 BA, 2 HR) and has done a solid job leading the rotation after being a swing man on the staff last year when he was 8th in the Big West in ERA. He is 5th in the conf in IP and 9th in K’s. Andriese has a fastball that sits in the low 90’s and a good slider that he buries to make hitters pound the ball into the ground with about a 2-1 groundout to flyout ratio. He started off slowly with a 8.15 ERA in his first three starts but has been better since then with a 3.66 ERA and allowed 5 R (4 ER) last weekend at UCSB and 4 R to Long Beach and 5 R to Pacific in his two previous conf starts. Andriese is a strike thrower with very good control and because he is around the plate so much, hitters have been able to make good contact and opponents are hitting over .300, including .320 in conf games. He does a good job of holding runners (4-9 SB’s). Andriese threw two scoreless innings with 2 H and 3 BB against Fullerton last year.

Sat – JR #34 Dustin Emmons (RHP – 6-3, 3.00 ERA, 11 apps, 9 starts, 1 CG, 63 IP, 75 H, 16 BB, 40 K, .302 BA, 1 HR, 8 HBP, 4 WP) did a good job out of the bullpen in 2009 (1-3, 2.80 ERA, 23 apps, 45 IP, 34 H, 16 BB, 29 K, .211 BA, 3 HR) and was a 2nd team all conf RP. He is another strike thrower and a ground ball pitcher. Emmons is 4th in the Big West in ERA and W’s. His opps AVG has gone up this season as hitters have seen him more than once through the lineup. Emmons has done a good job of keeping Riverside in games by allowing 3 ER or less in seven of his last eight starts. He allowed 11 R (8 ER) on 23 H in 13 IP in his starts against Pacific and Long Beach before bouncing back to hold Bakersfield and UCSB to 4 R (3 ER) in 14 IP in his last two starts. Emmons has not done a good job of holding runners (9-10 SB’s). He has allowed 6 R (0 ER) on 2 H and 2 BB in 5 2/3 IP in two apps against Fullerton.

Sun – JR #18 Matt Larkins (RHP – 5-2, 4.30 ERA, 10 starts, 61 IP, 64 H, 18 BB, 24 K, .283 BA, 3 HR, 6 HBP, 1 WP) pitched out of the bullpen last season (4-2, 3.86 ERA, 18 apps, 35 IP, 33 H, 15 BB, 32 K, .258 BA, 1 HR) after being a SP as a FR. He has given Riverside an advantage in most series on Sundays because he has only allowed more than 4 ER in one start (at ASU) and they have won each of the conf games he has started. Larkins doesn’t have overpowering stuff with a fastball that sits in the 88-90 range and gets hitters out by keeping them off balance and getting them to pop the ball up with a 1 1/2 to 1 flyout to groundout ratio. He does a very good job of holding runners (5-17 SB’s the last two years). Larkins threw a scoreless inning against the Titans last season and allowed 4 R (3 ER) on 13 H in 6 IP in his start at Fullerton in 2008.


With last year’s closer being drafted (Joe Kelly) and the other three relievers now in the rotation, Riverside has had to start over in the bullpen and the results generally haven’t been good. They do not have any LHP’s in their bullpen.

Closer – FR #17 Mitch Patito (RHP – 1-0, 1.69 ERA, 3 saves, 13 apps, 16 IP, 7 H, 9 BB, 18 K, .127 BA, 1 HR, 7 HBP, 0 WP) was pitching in middle relief until being moved into the closer role three weeks ago. He has a good arm with a low 90’s fastball and a solid curveball but command has been an issue and he is allowing a BB/HBP for each IP. Patito hasn’t blown a save in three chances.

JR #42 Mike Wolford (RHP – 3-1, 7.71 ERA, 4 saves, 17 apps, 21 IP, 33 H, 6 BB, 21 K, .359 BA, 3 HR, 1 HBP, 2 WP) was the closer before several blown save chances resulted in him being moved into a middle reliever role.

JR #32 Derek Speigner (RHP – 2-1, 3.57 ERA, 1 save, 19 apps, 23 IP, 23 H, 14 BB, 18 K, .271 BA, 1 HR, 2 HBP, 0 WP) has usually been pretty solid in middle relief getting the ball to the closer and is 2nd in the conf in appearances.

The other relievers are midweek SP’s FR #14 Trevor Frank (RHP – 2-1, 7.13 ERA, 12 apps, 5 starts, 35 IP, 51 H, 11 BB, 18 K, .359 BA, 3 HR, 2 HBP, 3 WP) and Soph #21 Eddie Orozco (RHP – 0-2, 8.10 ERA, 5 apps, 3 starts, 13 IP, 19 H, 7 BB, 10 K, .358 BA, 0 HR, 4 HBP, 3 WP) along with SR #23 Kevin Dickey (RHP – 0-1, 20.25 ERA, 8 apps, 9 IP, 22 H, 7 BB, 6 K, .478 BA, 4 HR, 1 HBP, 2 WP).


Fullerton and Riverside come into this weekend playing some of their best baseball of the season with the Titans winning 9 of their last 10 games while the Highlanders have gone 7-2 in their last nine games. Fullerton has gone 20-4 over their last eight weekends while Riverside has gone 15-7 in winning six of their last seven series, with the only series loss coming at Pacific. The Titans have been mowing teams with 9 of their 12 Big West wins coming by 4+ runs while the Highlanders were playing closer games with 4 of their first 5 Big West wins coming by one or two runs before finishing up their series at UCSB with consecutive blowout wins.

Riverside is the only Big West team that has a winning record against Fullerton since 2002 when they joined the Big West as a full member and Irvine restarted their program. The Highlanders are 9-3 at home against the Titans while Fullerton has won two out of three games in all four series that the teams have played at Goodwin Field. Riverside knows they need to win this series to have much hope at getting into a regional next month and that they can play with Fullerton but the Titans seized some momentum in this series when they came back to win the final two games of the series last year at Riverside.

The key to this series for the Fullerton pitching staff will be keeping the ball in the yard. If the Riverside hitters are able to play HR derby, they will be able to stay in games and give themselves a chance to come out of Goodwin Field with a series win. The Fullerton starting pitchers have to work deep into games to keep the Highlanders from seeing much of what has lately been a questionable group of middle relievers.

Similarly to Fullerton, the key to this series for the Riverside pitching staff is to have their starting pitchers work deep into games and not let Fullerton get into their middle relief. The weakness for the Highlanders this year has been a bullpen that has blown several games, although that situation has calmed down with the change of closers. The Titans must put pressure on Riverside early at the plate and on the bases to get the Riverside starting pitchers out of their rhythm.

Riverside is a solid team that is playing well but they are only 9-10 away from home, where they haven’t lost a series and are 14-4. Fullerton has been the better team this season and they are playing at home, where the Titans have won nine of their last ten games. The Titans are a bit banged up right now but if Fullerton continues to play like they have the last eight weeks, although it won’t be easy (because it never is against Riverside for the Titans) they should be able to win two out of three games in this series.

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