This week’s Thursday Thoughts looks to be an abbreviated version compared to previous editions. Based on the small sample size of two games vs. Michigan in the form of a double header on Sunday, we had half the number of games to comment on that we normally are accustomed. Unfortunately, the rainy weather that has battered California the past few weeks has played havoc on game schedules and playing conditions in and around Southern California.
According to the Cal State Fullerton Geography Department’s weather station on top of the Humanities Building, CSUF received 13.9 inches of rain in 2023. The sheer amount of rain over the previous week combined with the saturated field from previous storms forced the Cal State Fullerton Athletic Department to move Friday’s game vs. Michigan to Monday. The Saturday contest could not be played due to the weather and the athletics department chose to combine Saturday and Sunday’s game into a double header played on Sunday, 2/26. Ultimately the field conditions forced Titan Baseball to cancel the Monday game vs. Michigan and reschedule the Tuesday game vs. USC to May 3, 2023.
That means the Titans played just two games, the double header on Sunday vs. Michigan, which resulted in the Titans losing both games. With the Titans playing two games, half of the normal weekend series plus the mid-week game, the opportunity to better evaluate the 2023 Titans was cut in half.
But we press on despite the weather and the limited number of games played to present to you the Good, the Bad and the Ugly that was Titan Baseball this past week.
Sunday, February 26, 2023 vs. Michigan: LOSS – 9-5
Sunday, February 26, 2023 vs. Michigan: LOSS – 7-3
Monday, February 27, 2023 vs. Michigan: CANCELED
Tuesday, February 28, 2023 vs. USC: RESCHEDULED TO MAY 3
Season to date stats
Overall Record: 2-4
Conference Record: 0-0
Streak: LOST 2
Last 10: 2-4
Runs Scored: 40
Home Runs: 4
Team Batting Avg: .284
On-Base %: .393
Slugging %: .422
Extra base hits: 21
Total bases: 89
Hit by pitch: 7
Stolen Bases: 4
Fielding %: .967
Double Plays turned: 6
Passed Balls: 3
Stolen Bases allowed: 5
Team ERA: 7.36
Batting average against: .286
Hits allowed: 64
Total Runs Allowed: 50
Walks Issued: 34
Ks per 9 innings: 10.15
Home runs allowed: 11
Titans of the Week
Winners chosen via Twitter poll
Pitcher of the Week
Jesse Alfaro: 1IP – 0H – 0ER – 0BB – 2K – 0.00 ERA
Jason Blood: 3IP – 4H – 2ER – 0BB – 3K – 6.00 ERA
Gavin Meyer: 2.1IP – 0H – 0R – 1BB – 2K – 0.00 ERA
Vote on this week’s #CalStateOmaha Pitcher of the Week Nominees*:@JesseAlfaro18: 1IP – 0H – 0ER – 0BB – 2K – 0.00 ERA@jtblood13: 3IP – 4H – 2ER – 0BB – 3K – 6.00 ERA
Gavin Meyer: 2.1IP – 0H – 0R – 1BB – 2K – 0.00 ERA#TusksUp
— Cal State Omaha (@CalStateOmaha) March 1, 2023
Batter of the Week
Caden Connor: 4/7 – .570 – 2R – 2RBI – 1BB – 2K
Moises Guzman: 1/2 – .500 – 0R – 0RBI – 1BB – 0K
Nate Nankil: 3/9 – .330 – 1R – 0RBI – 0BB – 0K
Carter White: 4/5 – .800 – 1R – 1RBI – 0BB – 0K
Vote on this week’s #CalStateOmaha Batter of the Week*:@Caden_Connor77: 4/7 – .570 – 2R – 2RBI – 1BB – 2K@Moi_3131: 1/2 – .500 – 0R – 0RBI – 1BB – 0K@nankils619: 3/9 – .330 – 1R – 0RBI – 0BB – 0K@carter__white: 4/5 – .800 – 1R – 1RBI – 0BB – 0K#TusksUp #CalStateOmaha
— Cal State Omaha (@CalStateOmaha) March 1, 2023
JT Navyac Bounce Back
After a troublesome opening weekend vs. Stanford (2/13 – .154 – 1 Run – 3 RBI – 1 Walk – 8 Ks – 2 Errors), Shortstop JT Navyac bounced back to have himself a decent weekend. Sure, it was a small sample size of just two games but Navyac came out of the Michigan double header hitting .250 (1-for-4) scored 2 runs, walked once and did not commit an error while starting both games.
Great sign of a mature player using the Ken Ravizza technique of “flushing” a bad performance and not letting it affect future performance. Although he did not have a series that lit the world on fire, improvement is improvement which we will take this early in the season.
Bench Seeing Action
Coming out of the Stanford series and Tulane game, Head Coach Jason Dietrich played pretty much the starters with very few reserve players seeing any action. Against Michigan, a few more players saw playing time, many of them newcomers to the 2023 squad.
Veteran Carter White, coming off of four plate appearances where he walked three times and was hit by a pitch but recorded no official at-bats vs. Stanford, made a big impact in the Michigan double header. He pinch hit in the first game, getting a single and he would eventually score on a Brendan Bobo double. In the second game, White started in center field and went 3-for-4 and recorded an RBI.
For the two games, White batted .800 and leads the team in on-base percentage (.889) and slugging percentage (.800). White did not play in the Friday season opener vs. Stanford but his five game on-base streak could be hard to overlook when filling out the line-up card this weekend.
Max Ortega saw his second game of his college career come in the second half of the double header vs. Michigan. Clearly giving Cole Urman a break after playing the first game, Ortega went 1-for-4 (.250) but struck out twice. Ortega has recorded a hit in both games he has played in this young season.
Freshmen Angelo Aleman, Luke Mistone and Draven Nushida also saw action off the bench. Aleman struck out in his one at-bat in Game 1 while Nushida pinch hit as well and flew out to left field in the bottom of the ninth. Mistone grounded out to third in his collegiate debut.
On the mound, freshman Jesse Alfaro got an inning of work in the ninth inning of the Michigan Game 1. His first batter he induced a fly out and then struck out the final two batters in his D1 debut.
Depending on how the games go this weekend vs. Texas, Titan fans could see a few more Titans make their debut this season.
How can canceling two games, the third Michigan game and the mid-week vs. USC, be a good thing? Let us explain.
One word comes to mind and that word is healing. Healing of the body and healing of the field. We’ll tackle the field conditions first.
We have seen in previous years when it has rained a lot of Southern California, the Goodwin Field outfield does not drain very well. Once the ground gets super saturated, the water puddles and pools on the grass. A day or two after the rain stops, the outfield looks thick and lush but playing on it can be treacherous if not given enough time to dry. The field condition prior to the USC game scheduled for Tuesday appears the reason the game was moved to May 3rd.
Healing of the body for those dinged up a bit came at a good time this week. We have not heard any word regarding the Jojo Ingrassia leg injury and the games getting canceled gives him an additional week to heal up. If the injury is not a broken bone and merely a deep contusion, the extra time off of will aid in the healing process.
In addition, the time to mentally heal from dropping a double header to a team many expected the Titans could win two of three from could have a positive impact heading into the Texas series. We’re looking for the silver lining in the middle of all this dreary weather.
Team ERA above 7
Six games in the books and then Titans team ERA sits at 7.34. All college baseball fans understand that early in the season, hitters tend to be ahead of the pitchers in terms of success. Batting averages are typically higher early in the season compared to the end of the season. Same goes for team earned run averages.
But a team ERA above seven after the first six games? That number appears rather inflated by the 19 earned runs scored in the Sunday Stanford game. Remove that one game, (19 earned runs in 10 innings) and the team ERA drops to 5.20. Not great but on pace to what we all expected the Titans’ arms to do.
Saturday starter Trevor Hinkle’s numbers causes the most concern. In two games and a combined 8 2/3rds innings, Hinkle has surrendered nine earned runs to rack up a 9.35 ERA to date. Hinkle also let up three home runs vs. Stanford but thankfully, kept the ball in the yard vs. Michigan.
Only three pitchers have a 0.00 ERA with Fynn Chester contributing significant innings this early. Chester did not see any action this weekend vs. Michigan which leads us to believe he was slated to start the series finale had it been played on Monday. (Evan Yates did not pitch this weekend either so he could have easily started on Monday as well.)
In two appearances, Chester has thrown six innings, given up two hits, no runs, walked one batter while striking out three. We hit on Jesse Alfaro’s one inning performance earlier while Josh Howitt has only thrown a third of an inning while allowing zero earned runs. Outside of those three, Jason Blood (3.68) and Seth Tomczak (4.91) remain the only pitchers with an ERA under five.
Not much needs to be said about the rainy weather all of California has seen the past few weeks. Combined with the cold temperatures and rain, Goodwin Field might as well have been Ray Fisher Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The moisture and field conditions caused the games to get moved to different days, forced start times to adjust and of course, games canceled and moved. Thankfully the weather forecast for this weekend’s series vs. Texas calls for partly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60’s. Add to that, after the rain stopped on Wednesday afternoon, it gives Goodwin Field roughly 50+ hours to dry out and absorb all that water.
We understand that sports entertainment involves more than just the play on the field. We tip our hats to the Cal State Fullerton Athletics Department for bringing in corporate sponsors that enhance the fan experience with freebies and giveaways. The In-N-Out Burger giveaway needs a bit of massaging.
This year, if two Titans hit two doubles in the game, members of the Spirit Squad give away five In-N-Out gift cards to fans to receive a free Double-Double cheeseburger. Sounds great except one minor issue.
The gift cards expired as of 12/31/2022.
In all fairness, we did not inspect all the gift cards given out this past Sunday but the one awarded to a fan sitting in our section had an expiration date from last year. With that said, there is some good news…
California law states that gift cards and gift certificates SOLD in California cannot expire. The reason why we capitalized and bolded the word “sold” is because these gift cards given away were not sold but merely “gifted” or given away. We are not an attorney, but we are unclear if a gift card that is given away and not sold can contain an expiration date.
No matter the semantics and fine print regarding the promotion, it’s just a bad look to be handing out gift cards that have an expiration date going back to last year.
Long Ball Persistence
Of the two games vs. Michigan, only the first game featured a home run by the Wolverines. Unfortunately, that home run came in the first game vs. Tyler Stultz where Greg Pace Jr. lifted a 3-run bomb. That home run was the second in as many starts by Stultz.
Again, we get it, this season is a small sample size compared to the entire 50+ game college baseball season. But it is concerning that Stultz is on pace to give up 14-15 home runs on the season if he gives up one per game. Compare that to last season when Stultz gave up a grand total of four bombs.
The good news remains that Trevor Hinkle, who gave up three home runs during his Stanford outing, did not surrender a long ball vs. Michigan.
Mental Mistakes Persist
Last weekend, we detailed the mental mistakes that occurred in the Stanford games. If you need a refresher or missed it, please read Thursday Thoughts: Stanford & Tulane Edition. Unfortunately, the mental mistakes carried over to the Michigan double header games.
The latest mental mistake came in the bottom of the fifth inning of Game 2 vs. Michigan. After Zach Lew grounded into a double play, Nate Nankil remained on second base with two outs and Colby Wallace coming to the plate. Michigan starter Chase Allen’s first pitch to Wallace was wild and Catcher Gabe Sotres struggled to locate the ball which had dribbled towards the third base on deck circle.
Nankil easily advanced to third base but instead of stopping, rounded the base and headed for home. Sotres located the ball and lobbed it to Allen who promptly tagged Nankil on the arm. Nankil was called out and despite having two runners on with zero outs prior to Lew hitting into the double play, the Titans came away with nothing.
After seeing it in person and then watching the ESPN+ replay to gain more clarify, we’re unclear where the base running mistake originated.
Was it Nankil ignoring third base coach Josh Belovsky and taking it upon himself to try an score? Did Belovsky send Nankil thinking Sotres would not locate the ball soon enough to force a tag? The replay does not provide many answers.
From what we could see on the replay, Belovsky did not have his hands up to stop Nankil nor did he make motions to send him home. The viewer can see verbal instructions, but we cannot read lips well enough to decipher what Belovsky was telling Nankil. He could have been saying, “no, no, no” or he could have been saying, “go, go, go”. It’s impossible to tell.
Either way, trying to score from second on a passed ball is rather aggressive and at the same time, ill-advised. We’re not looking to point fingers here but merely pointing out that after two weekends of play, mental mistakes still occur.
The Titans only have two more non-conference weekends to go, Texas and Pepperdine. That’s when the fundamental baseball needs to kick in. After the first two weeks, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Northridge all have shown well in their early non-conference games. In order to win the conference and earn an automatic invitation to the postseason, the Titans will need to eliminate those mental errors to have a chance.
The Michigan Wolverines owed the Titans a return trip after Cal State Fullerton traveled to Ann Arbor last season. This weekend’s series vs. the University of Texas Longhorns is a return trip dating back from 2020. You may recall the Cal State Fullerton – Texas series played March 6-8, 2020 was the last three games the Titans would play before the season was shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dubbed the “Augie Classic” because the legendary Augie Garrido coached and had tremendous success at both institutions, the return trip for the Longhorns has been three years and one coaching staff change in the making.
This year’s Longhorn team comes to Fullerton after a successful season last year. The ‘Horns advanced to the College World Series in Omaha last season and also boasted the Golden Spikes Award winner, Ivan Melendez. But that was last season and much to the chagrin of Longhorn fans, Texas found itself left off the preseason ranking lists. Sitting at 3-5 overall on the year, the Longhorns will look to get back to their winning ways this weekend at Goodwin Field.
Texas opened the 2023 season at the College Baseball Showdown hosted at Globe Life Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Longhorns got a taste of what it can look forward to when moving into the SEC, losing all three of their games in the tournament to Arkansas, Missouri and Vanderbilt. The Longhorns got their first win, blowing out Texas A&M Corpus Christi 12-2 and got on a small win streak taking two out of three from Indiana. Texas won the Friday and Saturday meetings to take the series but could not complete the sweep and lost 4-2 on Sunday to the Hoosiers. Most recently, they lost 3-0 to No. 1 ranked LSU in front of a home crowd of 7,641 at UFCU DischFalk Field.
Offensively, the Longhorns only have one player in their line-up batting over .300. Outfielder Eric Kennedy has started all eight games and currently bats .333 and sports an OPS of .942 with four RBI and one home run. The other outfielder to watch includes Porter Brown who bats .286 but has three homers, accounting for 3/5th of the Longhorns’ long balls for the season. With great power has great ability to strike out as well. Both Kennedy and Brown are tied for the team lead in Ks with 10 apiece.
On the mound, the Longhorns are led by Friday night starter Lucas Gordon, a Southern California native who went to Notre Dame High School in Los Angeles. In 10.2 innings, Gordon has allowed just one run, walked four and struck out 13. He has yet to yield a home run and opposing batters are hitting a paltry .176 against him.
Saturday starter Zane Morehouse has pitched a total a nine innings over the course of two games and has a 4.00 ERA. Opponents bat .273 vs. Morehouse and if the Titans can get to him early, it could bode well in the end. Sunday starter Travis Sthele holds a 3.12 ERA and opponents bat .263 against him.
Out of the bullpen, Lebarron Johnson Jr., could see some time in relief although he appears slotted as the mid-week starter. He started vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi and most recently vs. LSU but could see limited innings this weekend. Johnson Jr.’s 2.45 ERA is second best on the Longhorns behind Gordon’s 0.84. David Shaw and Chris Stuart have the most appearances out of the bullpen appearing in five games for the Longhorns this season
Friday, March 3: LHP – Tyler Stultz (1-1, 5.00 ERA) vs. LHP – Lucas Gordon (0-0, 0.84 ERA)
Saturday, March 4: RHP – Trevor Hinkle (0-1, 9.35 ERA) vs. RHP – Zane Morehouse (1-0, 4.00 ERA)
Sunday, March 5: RHP – Fynn Chester (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP – Travis Sthele (0-2, 3.12 ERA)
Times listed are Pacific time:
March 3, 2023 (Friday) vs. Texas – 6:00 PM
March 4, 2023 (Saturday) vs. Texas – 5:00 PM
March 5, 2023 (Sunday) vs. Texas – 1:00 PM