Thursday, May 2, 2013

Aloha Means Not Quite a Sweep

Titans at Hawai'i: Lost 4-3 (Friday), Won 5-0 (Saturday), Won 3-0 (Sunday)

By Don Hudson

HONOLULU - After losing the series opener, the Cal State Fullerton Titans (36-7) bounced back with consecutive shutouts to win their weekend road series against the University of Hawai’i Rainbows (9-29).

Although the RPI took a hit (now 10th as of Wednesday morning), the Titans maintained their rankings (3rd or 4th) in all the major polls.

Game 1: Hawai’i Rainbows 4, Titans 3

In the immortal words of Senkichi Awaya, “WHAT THE F$&K WAS THAT?!!!”

The Titans have demonstrated an amazing ability to find a way to win games late even when they don’t play at their best (such as the ninth inning comeback at UC Davis with help of errors) or with some luck (like runner leaving early and called out on appeal to end game at Long Beach State.)  This game felt like it would be just another chapter in a book of winning tales – until the Hawai’i Rainbows received some much-needed and undoubtedly deserved good luck when an attempted check-swing produced the game-winning run.

The Rainbows had originally announced a weekend pitching rotation that began with lefthander Scott Squier, but after the team’s practice on Thursday, UH Coach Mike Trapasso went with his gut and switched to fifth-year senior righthander Connor Little, who has been a workhorse starter but had been assigned to the bullpen after stumbling in a start two weeks ago at Cal Poly (six runs in six innings).  With freshman ace Thomas Eshelman on the bump for the Titans, the matchup seemed tilted heavily against the home team, but that’s why they play the games on the field.

That advantage seemed bigger when Richy Pedroza wasted little time, whacking the first pitch of the game for a triple to centerfield and scoring on a groundout by Carlos Lopez to give the Titans a quick 1-0 lead.  Little escaped further harm when J.D. Davis walked but was tagged out straying too far from second-base after an infield single by Michael Lorenzen.  Even though they trailed, it seemed a moral victory for the Rainbows to have escaped relatively unscathed.

The game started clumsily for the Titans defensively when leadoff man Stephen Ventimilia hit a groundball to the right side of the infield.  Lopez went to field the ball and could not get back to the bag in time to take a throw from second-baseman Jake Jefferies, who had to delay momentarily before feeding too late to Eshelman covering the base.  Eshelman pitched out of the inning scorelessly, but it was a quick portent that the Titans were not immediately comfortable playing on the ersatz DomoTurf field.

After both teams swapped scoreless second innings, Austin Kingsolver led off for the Titans with a single in the top of the third.  Rather than try a straight steal against a team throwing out just 17% of runners, the Titans played hit-and-run, with Kingsolver advancing on a groundout and being stranded on base.

Eshelman and the Titans’ defense faltered in the bottom of the third inning.  It was the first inning all year that Eshelman was hit hard by multiple batters, leaving balls up and pitches looking flat. Shortstop Austin Wobrock (#8 hitter) led off with a sharp single to centerfield and advanced on a passed ball.
The #9 hitter, catcher Tyler Young, followed with another line-drive single to centerfield.  With no outs, the Rainbows opted not to challenge Lorenzen’s arm and held Wobrock at third.

Ventimilia followed with a groundball to Pedroza’s backhand that could potentially have been a double-play: score tied, 1-1, but rally snuffed.  But Ventimilia is a quick lefthanded hitter, so Pedroza rushed his relay and threw wildly past Jefferies into rightfield.  Instead of tied score with two outs and nobody on, it was tied but with no outs and runners at second and third.

Pi’ikea Kitamura followed with an RBI single that made it 2-1. The Titans then botched a much easier double-play attempt: Kaeo Aliviado hit a groundball to Jefferies, who threw to Pedroza to start the twin-killing.  Pedroza’s relay back to first retired Aliviado, but Kitamura was ruled safe at second by virtue of Pedroza not tagging the bag with possession of the ball on the pivot. Young scored an unearned run on the play to make it 3-1 and confidence soared throughout the stadium.

The Titans looked like they would quickly counter-punch when Lorenzen led off the fourth inning with a single, but Little induced a 4-6-3 double-play from Anthony Hutting and struck out Chad Wallach.

The Rainbows were aggressive and swung early in the count, as other teams have done lately with awareness of Eshelman’s stinginess for issuing walks.  Andre Real and Kalei Hanawahine led off with solid singles.  After a sacrifice bunt put two runners in scoring position with just one out, pitching coach Jason Dietrich came out with the hook and Eshelman was replaced by Koby Gauna.  It was the shortest performance of Eshelman’s nascent Titans career.

Gauna quickly doused the fire, striking out Young and getting Ventimilia to ground out.  It was a big moment in the game – a hit by either of them would have made it 5-1 and a much different ballgame.

Little continued to grind on the mound for Hawai’i, allowing base-runners, but not the big innings that the Titans have feasted on all year. After Little and Gauna traded scoreless fifth innings, the Titans scored once in the sixth to reduce the deficit to 3-2.  Lopez led off with a double, bringing up the 3-4-5 part of the batting order.  With the third-baseman playing deep on the carpet, J.D. Davis bunted and was thrown out on a good barehanded play by Kitamura, with Lopez moving to third on the sacrifice.  Lorenzen hit a relatively deep flyball to centerfield for a sacrifice fly that scored Lopez, but the diminutive Aliviado (termed “the Hawai’ian Richy Pedroza”) made a great throw that definitely caught the attention of the Titans and impacted their base-running decisions the rest of the series.

Little was aided by a couple of diving catches in the seventh inning: Aliviado robbed Matt Chapman of extra bases with a great catch, followed by rightfielder George Connor turning a flyball by Jefferies into a harder-than-it-should-have-been circus-catch.  The plays pumped up the team and the boisterous home crowd.

Kingsolver led off the top of the eighth against Little with a flare single just beyond the reach of second-baseman Ventimilia.  I was surprised the Titans again eschewed the straight steal – especially when they ended the series 7-for-7 on stolen base attempts.  Pedroza sacrificed Kingsolver into scoring position.

Lopez followed with a line-shot single to centerfield.  Even with Kingsolver’s great speed, the Titans respected Aliviado’s arm and held him up at third.  Davis and Little battled before the Titans’ designated hitter lofted a flyball to rightfield which easily allowed Kingsolver to score and tie the game, 3-3.

Titans fans breathed a sigh of relief.  “We’ve seen this play before and we all know the script.  It’s now time for us to put this game away late and send the other guys home frustrated with ‘how close’ they had come.”

Lopez stole second base, which created an open base and an intentional walk to Lorenzen.  With 120 pitches thrown in a game he wasn’t even supposed to start, and lefthanded-hitting Hutting coming up, Little was replaced to a huge ovation from fans of both teams.

The Rainbows have had a much-beleaguered bullpen, as their pitching staff has had myriad injuries and they have relied on their starters to stay in games as deep as possible.  Enter lefthanded sophomore Lawrence Chew (0-1 and one save, 7.45 ERA in 14 appearances coming in, allowing 23 hits, 10 walks and 3 HBP in 19 innings) – surely we have to hit this guy, right?

Greg Velazquez pinch-hit for Hutting and quickly fell into a 0-2 hole before grounding out to end the threat.  Nonetheless, the deficit had been wiped out and momentum appeared to have shifted to the Titans.

But nothing kills momentum like walking the leadoff hitter, which Gauna did with George on a full-count pitch to start the bottom of the eighth.  With lefthanded hitting Marc Flores coming up and Gauna having already contributed 3-2/3 innings of stellar relief in a humid climate unfamiliar to the Titans, it was a surprise when Tyler Peitzmeier was not summoned right away.  Perhaps the thinking was that it was an “automatic” bunting situation to get the go-ahead runner to second and that Gauna would then be able to retire the righthanded hitter due next, but Flores spoiled the strategy by lining a single to rightfield that sent George scampering to third-base uncontested.

With runners on the corners and no outs, Gauna struck out Real, which prompted the call for Peitzmeier to come in and face Hanawahine.  With a couple feeble safety squeeze attempts mixed in, Peitzmeier struck out Hanawahine to restore order and bring up the .221-hitting Wobruck with two outs.  With a lefthanded-hitting defensive specialist batting, confidence was high that the Titans would bat with a tie score in the ninth and break the game open against Chew.

But then “it” happened.

Wobrock tried to check his swing on the first pitch and he gave an immediate look of disgust when his bat unintentionally contacted the ball and sent it rolling out on the carpet a few feet down the third-base line.  Wallach instinctively went out for it as third-baseman Chapman charged, but the ball died on the carpet and about the only chance was for them both to try the old Lenny Randle play (e.g. get down on their knees and blow the ball foul.)  But the air burst out of the Titans’ bubble when Chapman and Wallach collided as George gleefully passed them and scored the game’s eventual winning run.

Give credit to Chew – he came into a tight situation and retired four consecutive batters that generally feast on lefthanded pitching (Velazquez, Chapman, Jefferies and Wallach) in earning his first win of the season.

The Titans were outhit, 9-8, with two each by Lopez, Lorenzen and Kingsolver.  Gauna was a tough-luck loser, despite 4 innings of excellent work, allowing just two hits plus the costly walk that proved to be the winning run.

Give credit to the Rainbows – they made some outstanding defensive plays, got steady pitching and put together more quality at-bats against Eshelman than any other team this season.  Thomas may have had difficulty adjusting to the high mound at Les Murakami Stadium, but this is not a kid who makes or needs excuses.  I expect this game to be a good learning experience for him.

Epilogue: I hated reading this quote in the newspaper the next day: Little said, “We wanted it more today.  Guys were picking each other up, it was a team effort, and I was glad to have that defense behind me today.”  Have you ever noticed the coffee is bitter, the eggs rubbery, the toast burned and the newspaper poorly written the day after a Titans loss?

Game 2: Titans 5, Hawai’i Rainbows 0

J.D. Davis celebrated his twentieth birthday in style on Saturday night as the Titans bounced back to shut out the Rainbows and even their weekend series.  Davis was 5-for-5 at the plate and came in to get the final three outs in the ninth inning to preserve the win and the shutout.

Freshman Justin Garza was brilliant, pitching eight shutout innings on a night when his secondary pitches (change-up and curveball) weren’t working and he relied on his fastball.  He was sitting at 91-92 mph early in the game while still trying to find his secondary pitches, but elevated to 93-95 mph once he determined to live or die by the fastball.

Garza strong in Game 2
Garza’s opposing pitcher, Matt Cooper, got behind right away and lasted only three innings.  Lopez and Davis singled with one out in the top of the first.  With both runners moving on the pitch, Lorenzen grounded hard to first-base as Lopez and Davis advanced.  After a walk to Jefferies loaded the bases, Chapman walked to drive in the game’s first run.

Cooper should have escaped with just one run allowed, but the previous night’s hero, Wobrock, booted a routine groundball by Wallach to make it 2-0.

The Rainbows threatened against Garza in the first inning with a pair of two-out singles, but he retired the next hitter and settled into a groove.

Davis singled to lead off the third and went to second on a one-out single by Jefferies.  Both runners advanced on a double-steal on a strikeout.  Davis scored on a passed ball to make it 3-0.

Meanwhile, Garza was mowing down Rainbows – he retired ten straight batters from the first through fourth innings.  While the Titans’ infield had been shaky in the opener as they acclimated to the artificial surface and perhaps to the time zone, they were sharp on Saturday.

Squier, the originally announced starter for the Friday game, entered in the top of the fourth and held the Titans scoreless through the middle innings.  Jared Deacon greeted him with a single but was doubled off when Austin Diemer hit a line drive bullet right to the first-baseman standing on the bag.

The Titans finally scored a run against Squier in the top of the seventh to give Garza a little breathing room, 4-0.  Lopez doubled and scored on an RBI single by Davis.

Matt Orloff entered the game as a defensive replacement at second-base, his first game appearance since suffering a hand injury in the series opener at TCU on February 22.

It became 5-0 when the Titans scored again in the eighth on a bunt single by Chapman, sacrifice by Kingsolver, groundout by Deacon and an RBI double in the leftfield corner by Diemer.

Even though Garza’s velocity was still peaking and his pitch count was just 95, the Titans sent Willie Kuhl to the mound to start the ninth inning.  It may have been to expose the Rainbows to a large velocity differential or simply to help Kuhl get back on track.  But Kuhl’s tenure was brief, as he allowed a single and four-pitch walk before being replaced by Davis, who had not pitched since the midweek game at Pepperdine the Tuesday prior to the Cal Poly series.

Davis goes 5-for-5 and closes game
The first batter Davis faced, George, hit a hard groundball back to the mound.  Davis fielded it, gave Pedroza time to get to the bag and fed him for the force-out at second.  George then took second – ridiculous “homer” scoring, as he was credited with a stolen base when it was clearly defensive indifference. It became even more exciting as Davis hit the next batter with a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.  With the tying run in the on-deck circle, the semi-laugher had suddenly turned into a save situation had Lorenzen, who warmed up in the outfield when Davis warmed up on the mound, been brought in.

But it was clearly the ‘birthday boy’s’ night and the Titans stuck with Davis.  Real hit a little nubber in front of the plate – déjà vu to the night before – but Deacon alertly held his ground at the plate and allowed Davis to field the ball and flip it to him for a force-out at the plate.  A flyball to rightfield ended it and the Titans’ eighth shutout of the season was in the books.

The five-hit game by Davis was the first such performance for the Titans since Gary Brown did it in 2010 at UC Santa Barbara.  He led the Titans’ thirteen hit attack, with Lopez also contributing three.

Garza allowed just five singles and no walks in eight shutout innings, striking out two.

Epilogue: breakfast tastes better and the coffee smells great mornings after wins.  I enjoyed a couple quotes in the outstanding Star-Advertiser coverage of the action.  Speaking of Garza, UH’s George said, “We don’t see a lot of guys who are throwing mid-90s all game and props to him.  He had great stuff and kind of blew my mind as a freshman to come out there and be that tough for that long.”

UH Coach Trapasso paid homage to Davis: “He had an amazing game.  He hit a fastball, a curveball, a change-up, he hit inside, he hit outside, we tried everything with him.”

Game 3: Titans 3, Hawai’i Rainbows 0

(Photo Gallery)

The Rainbows sent righthander Corey MacDonald to the mound on Sunday to oppose Fullerton’s Grahamm Wiest, intent on accomplishing what no other team had accomplished this season: win a series from the Titans.  MacDonald is a workhorse (sixth in the BWC in innings pitched) who generally pitches into or beyond the seventh inning.

 MacDonald showed early wildness, walking Pedroza on four pitches leading off the game and falling behind Lopez, 2-0, until fighting back to retire three hitters in a row.  But his wildness hurt him in the second, as Chapman (celebrating his birthday) walked on four pitches and went to second on a wild pitch.  Jefferies dropped a single into centerfield, with Chapman making a good read and getting a good jump off second base.  It seemed like he would score easily, but Chappy’s feet got tangled near third-base and he held up despite the admonitions of coach Chad Baum.  Wallach grounded into a double-play, with Chapman scoring to give Wiest and the Titans a 1-0 lead.

Wiest was like a man pitching to boys.  He established a good fastball early and then carved up hitters with his off-speed and breaking pitches.

Lorenzen led off the top of the fourth inning and raced around to score on a first-pitch double by Chapman.  Jefferies pulled the ball to the right side of the infield to move Chapman to third, where he scored on an ensuing sacrifice fly by Wallach to give the Titans a 3-0 lead.

The Rainbows got their only runner to second base with one out in the bottom of the fifth.  Hanawahine hit a chopper between the mound and first-base.  Both Lopez and Wiest initially went to field the ball, with Lopez ultimately attempting a desperation behind-the-back-tap-pass to Wiest covering the base, just a step too late to retire Hanawahine.  Umpire Jeff Henrichs, who had tossed Coach Vanderhook in the Davis series opener, then called a balk on Wiest.  I’m pretty sure it was just to see whether Hooky would come all the way across the hot plastic infield to argue the call.  (With the vast foul ground at Les Murakami Stadium, you need a cab to make it from the visitors’ dugout to where Henrichs was standing.)  Hooky made it about to third-base, yelled at him briefly from about 125 feet away and both retreated, satisfied.

Wiest again stellar
The Titans missed a few scoring opportunities, but Wiest was in such command that the outcome never seemed in jeopardy.  Lorenzen led off the sixth inning with a single and hustled all the way around to third-base on a wild pitch.  But he was forced to stay when Chapman grounded to shortstop and was out at the plate on a ‘contact play’ when Jefferies hit a groundball to second-base.  Having a man on third-base with no outs and your 5-6-7 hitters coming up would normally drive all the coaches in the stands crazy, but Wiest made it inconsequential.

Runners were stranded in scoring position in the seventh (Diemer HBP and stolen base) and eighth (Lorenzen single and stolen base) innings, but Wiest made that inconsequential also.

One of my favorite parts of the game is when the Titans play shenanigans to give their relief pitchers more time to throw in the bullpen.  With two out and nobody out in the top of the ninth, Hooky called time-out and had a lengthy conversation with Diemer (Hooky presumably wishing Austin a happy birthday) as Lorenzen threw in the ‘pen.  Just when it appeared they had run out of chit-chat, Pedroza wandered over from the on-deck circle and gave Diemer some pine-tar to slowly work into his bat.  Classic baseball stuff.

Lorenzen came in with a 3-0 lead and a save situation.  He hit Kitamura with a pitch leading off to create a mildly anxious moment, but got the next hitter on a lazy flyball before inducing a 6-4-3 double-play, with Orloff turning it to end the game and clinch the series.

Wiest was the game’s dominating figure, allowing just two hits and one walk in his eight innings of shutout pitching, striking out five Rainbows.  Lorenzen had three of the Titans’ seven hits, with Kingsolver contributing two hits.

Epilogue:  Vanderhook was gracious in victory, describing the Rainbows as “the best nine-win team I’ve ever seen and I feel licky and fortunate getting out of here winning two.  They’re going to help us along the road because we’re done with them and with the people they’re going to play,  they’ll give us some help beating those teams.”

Wiest told reporter Billy Hull, “Obviously we tried to sweep the series, but once the loss was over our goal is to come out and win the series.  I established the fastball early, and when I can do that, I can pitch off my off-speed, which is my bread-and-butter.”


So what did we learn on the island?

All things being equal, I’d rather be in Stockton.

I’m pretty much of an avid indoorsman – if it wasn’t for Titans games, I’d probably never go outside – so all that “beauty is truth, truth beauty” crappola is lost on me.  Of the Hawai’ian islands, O’ahu is my least favorite: an over-commercialized tourist trap.  My favorite (of the others I’ve been to) is Kaua’i.  I also like Maui and even the “big island” of Hawai’i.  I was on Hawai’i one time many years ago when the road was closed by flowing lava after a volcano eruption – definitely something I had never witnessed before.

While I absolutely love the North Shore of O’ahu and had a great garlic shrimp plate at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck in Kahuku, Honolulu is like Stockton except with more colorful shirts but no discount for late night purchases of gasoline.

SpamJam in Waikiki
My least favorite place on my least favorite island?  Waikiki.  So where did I stay?  Waikiki, of course.  I just might be my own worst enemy.  If I ever go back there, I’ll wise up and stay somewhere else.

Waikiki is a bunch of over-priced businesses stuffing their pockets with tourist bucks.  Traffic and parking are horrific, so as I walked around the maze of one-way streets, the sound-track that got stuck in my head was Depeche Mode’s Everything Counts: “The grabbing hands, grab all they can, all for themselves” and “The grabbing hands, grab all they can, everything counts in large amounts.”

The main drag through Waikiki is Kalakaua Avenue, which is a slow, congested thoroughfare in the best case scenario.  But they closed it down in entirety on Saturday from 2:00 to 11:00 p.m. to hold “SpamJam” – a traditional celebration where trapped tourists who can’t escape with the road closed find virtually unlimited ways to hand over their cash to merchants in exchange for an ersatz food product rated by most food health analysts to be more lethal than hot dogs, pizza, french fries and ice cream combined.

The closure of Kalakaua Avenue caused a “Spamageddon” traffic jam – if your hotel was in Waikiki, it took approximately an hour to make the three-mile commute to Les Murakami Stadium.  Cab drivers gave up and wouldn’t waste their time with fares based on miles rather than minutes.

The ubiquitous ABC Stores
What’s the deal with all those ABC Stores in Waikiki?  Just how many kitschy trashy sunscreen-and-Hawai’ian-shirt souvenir stores do you need?  Growing up in Rhode Island where there are 6.2 Dunkin’ Donuts outlets per square mile (the most of anywhere in the world), I understand market saturation strategies.  There are 37 ABC Stores within a one-mile radius in Waikiki, including four at the intersection of Kalakaua and Seaside Avenues – probably trying to keep competition out by buying or leasing as much retail space as possible.

My favorite part of the trip was doing the Diamond Head crater hike with ease – unlike the first time I tried it in 2004.  It is only 0.8 miles in length, but is steep and includes a 47-step spiral staircase after 74- and 99-step concrete staircases.  I started a daily walking regimen last June and was fairly confident I would do better than last time, but you never know until you get out there and do it.

Diamond Head 2013
Diamond Head, circa 2004
While probably younger back in 2004, I was definitely fatter.  As I began the hike back then, I passed an elderly Japanese couple: an old man in a black business suit and tie wearing Oxford shoes, and an older woman in a formal dress and high heels.  I scoffed to myself, wondering how far up the hill these two losers would get before turning back, victims of age, the heat, humidity and steep terrain.

I was ready to pass out after the 74-step stairs and about to die on the 99-step staircase.  I barely made it to the top, puking over the railing and passed out on the ground, proudly wearing my Titans hat.  As I was passed out at the top of the stairwell, the elderly Japanese couple stepped over me, looking down and shaking their heads disapprovingly.  After lying prone like a beached whale for twenty minutes, I self-revived and made it to the top, but it was miserable.

That was 2004.  This time I made it to the top in less than twenty minutes and with no upchucking incidents.  I have been walking a 5.8 mile mountain hiking trail almost every week recently, so the distance and steepness were no issue this time around.

I liked Les Murakami Stadium, which opened in 1984 as Rainbow Stadium and was renamed in 2002 in honor of the legendary coach who started the program and led it for 31 years, including to its only College World Series appearance in 1980.  They lost in the championship game to the Arizona Wildcats.

Trivia question: can you name the 1980 CWS Most Outstanding Player award winner, who also won the Golden Spikes Award that season?

The stadium seats 4,312 and has usually been ranked in the top twenty nationally in terms of attendance.  Whether their teams are good or bad, the Rainbows receive very loyal support, including large audiences for their games shown on TV throughout the islands.

After playing on natural grass in the inaugural 1984 season, they installed AstroTurf in 1985.  In 2008 they switched to DomoTurf, a synthetic grass with rubber infill granules intended to make the playing surface lay more like real grass and dirt than the fake turf of previous generations.  Rainbows shortstop Austin Wobrock has started all 38 of his team’s games this season and the error he committed Saturday was his first of the season: one error in 184 chances (.995 fielding percentage) is unreal.  While the Titans had difficulty adjusting to the surface in the series opener, Wobrock’s performance demonstrates the predictability of how the ball will play on the surface once you are accustomed to it.

I like when we reach Sunday and the opponents and their fans feel comfortable that they have endured their match-ups with Eshelman and Garza and assume things will get much easier against a “Sunday pitcher.”  By about the third inning, they begin to realize they’re in trouble.

With their eighth and ninth shutouts of the season, the most outstanding aspect of the weekend for the Titans was the pitching, particularly Garza and Wiest.  The offense was led by Davis with 5-for-10 (.500), Lorenzen was 5-for-11 (.455), Kingsolver 4-for-10 (.400) and Lopez was 5-for-13 (.385).  No Titan had a hit in all three games.

The Titans cling to a one-game lead in the BWC race over the Cal State Northridge Matadors.  Can you remember the last time we ‘scoreboard watched’ to see how Northridge was doing?

I was driving home from LAX on Monday afternoon when I heard Hooky interviewed on Sirius-XM’s Channel 91, which is dedicated to collegiate sports.  I was driving north on the 605, texting, half-asleep and not paying much attention, but some of the things I believe he said:

He had lots of praise for how tough Hawai’i had played his team and that he intended to fly out there on Wednesday next time they play there.  The team flew out on Thursday this time.  I like how he treats his team as adults: rather than have players distracted and sneaking around to enjoy Hawai’i’s attractions, the coaching staff allowed them two hours on the beach Friday morning and took them for a one-hour snorkeling outing on Saturday after the tough loss.  I couldn’t help but think of how much better the environment is compared with the toxic circumstances of the 2011 trip there with eight players suspended and left home.

I agree with his Wednesday departure solution.  Not only do they need more time to acclimate to the playing surface, they would also have benefitted from an extra day in the time zone.  Hooky acknowledged that many teams from the Eastern and Central time zones have declined playing Fullerton on the road, in part because of the time zone difference.

Asked whether the BWC deserved three NCAA bids, Hooky wholeheartedly agreed, describing Irvine as “having the best pitching staff in the country” and Cal Poly as “one of the two best teams we’ve played all season.”

The interviewer asked him about handling the workload of his freshmen pitchers and the notorious tendency to “hit the wall” late in the season.  Hooky was effusive in his praise of Eshelman and Garza, not only for their records, but for their work ethics and how quickly they adapted to collegiate throwing and conditioning programs.  Hooky was also extremely complimentary of the Titans’ strength and conditioning coaches and the contributions they have made to the team’s success.

Without saying which games they might sit, Hooky indicated the intent to have both Eshelman and Garza take a weekend start off.  He didn’t give any hint of what games those might be, but I tend to agree with FBF’s premise that they will happen during the road series at Riverside and Northridge and not in the home series against Long Beach State and Irvine.  This is largely an effect of the RPI formula that applies a 0.7 multiplier to road losses but 1.3 to home losses.

There was a lot of discussion about future scheduling, with Hooky reinforcing a statement he made early upon his return that the Titans would not schedule “away only” series against powerhouse teams and would only play teams willing to reciprocate with visits to Fullerton.  He was proud of the Titans having played the most road games of any Top 25 team.  He also confirmed TCU will be bowing out of the final two years of its series contract with Fullerton and that home-and-away series will begin next year with Baylor and Oklahoma.

He spoke highly of Lorenzen, describing him as a “combination of former Titan centerfielders Mark Kotsay, Dante Powell and Aaron Rowand.”  Asked whether his future was as outfielder or pitcher, Hooky said “Lorenzen is first and foremost a position player – he could be a major league centerfielder today.”  He also opined that Lorenzen could be a major league closer if it didn’t work out as a position player.
Terry Francona

To add more to the conversation about how pitchers’ workloads should be managed as they adapt to the rigors of collegiate baseball, I saw a great article recently that should be “must reading” for pitchers, parents of pitchers and hardcore college baseball fans.

Answer to trivia question:  Terry Francona was the CWS Most Outstanding Player and Golden Spikes Award winner in 1980.  The son of major leaguer “Tito” Francona, he was named to every major publications First-Team All American team.  Francona was inducted in 2011 into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

Whew!  That does it from here.  As much as I prefer road games, I’m actually looking forward to parking my kiester in Section K this weekend and watching the Titans battle the Dirtbags.  Hope to see you there!

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