A back-loaded Pac-12 schedule is about to pay dividends for Mark Marquess.
When the venerated Cardinal baseball head coach assembled the 2013 conference slate, he couldn’t have expected that he would begin Pac-12 play without his two star juniors, slugging right fielder Austin Wilson and solid right-handed starter A.J. Vanegas. But both of those two players were out of the picture by the end of opening weekend.
Predictably, Stanford struggled to find consistency at the plate through its first 25 games while its battery of freshman pitching replacements sprinkled impressive moments amongst blowup innings. But Stanford managed to scrap together a 5-4 record against some of the worst competition in the Pac-12 — its weekend opponents (Utah, Washington State and USC) finished at the very bottom of the conference in 2012 — and remains just two games back of conference-leading Oregon State.
Now with Vanegas and Wilson back in the mix, the Cardinal (17-10, 5-4 Pac-12) hosts one last mismatched series against Washington (8-22, 2-7) at Sunken Diamond as it looks to establish itself as a legitimate contender for a Pac-12 title before it begins a brutal in-conference stretch. Stanford also has the chance to climb back into the rankings after falling out for the first time all season last week.
This weekend’s set is a must-win if the Cardinal wants to regain some national respectability, and look for Vanegas and Wilson to steal the spotlight if Stanford is to be successful.
Though Vanegas won’t pan out as the reliable Saturday starter he was expected to be in 2013, he has already made an impact coming out of the bullpen, compiling a 2.57 ERA in his six appearances since March 26.
Wilson, meanwhile, is still nursing the elbow injury he sustained in the season opener against Rice. Regardless, the first-round MLB-prospect hit 2-for-4 in each of the Cardinal’s last two contests and is expected to start in the field after his recent rehab stint as the team’s designated hitter.
After a rough weekend at USC, Stanford’s starting pitching staff has the opportunity to take advantage of a Washington offense that ranks worse than 200th in the country in every major statistical category. But who Marquess will start after senior ace Mark Appel (5-2) remains a bit of a mystery. Freshmen Marcus Brakeman and Bobby Zarubin lasted just 2.1 combined innings in their two starts last weekend, while the team’s presumed Saturday starter back in February, sophomore lefty John Hochstatter, was relegated to midweek duty in the Cardinal’s 10-8 win against San Jose State on Tuesday.
Another promising young pitcher, local product Freddy Avis, made his Stanford debut with two perfect innings on March 26, but stressed the injury that had kept him off the mound for the first month of the season. According to Baseball America reporter Aaron Fitt, Avis didn’t make the trip with the team to Washington State last weekend, so he probably won’t be the answer against the struggling Huskies either.
Behind the dish, junior Brant Whiting has established himself as the Cardinal’s starting catcher for the time being. Though he opened the season as the Tuesday catcher and the weekend backup to sophomore Wayne Taylor, Whiting has taken over weekend duty as well recently, starting all three games at USC a week ago and hitting 7-for-15.
Untested Washington right-hander Jared Fisher (0-1) will take the mound against Appel tonight at 5:30 p.m. at Sunken Diamond. Junior righty Austin Voth (3-4) will start on Saturday for the Huskies at 1 p.m.; neither starter has been determined for Sunday’s 1 p.m. matinee.
Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.