With the toughest stretch of its season coming up, Stanford baseball (15-21, 4-11 Pac-12) needed to ride the momentum of a series win at Cal last weekend against Utah (13-22, 5-10), its weakest weekend opponent of its season. While the Cardinal were able to notch their second straight series win, the Utes jumped all over Stanford’s pitching in the series finale to avoid the sweep.
Junior shortstop Drew Jackson was the star of the series from the plate, as he had a career-high 4 hits in the series opener on Friday to pace the team from the leadoff spot in the lineup. He added 2 more hits on Saturday and another on Sunday.
“It was huge that we came back and won [Friday], and having 4 hits is pretty sweet,” Jackson said. “Baseball’s a funny game — you can go 0-for-4 and have 4 hits the next day. It’s a good feeling, that’s for sure.”
Jackson paced a Cardinal offense that stayed hot over the weekend after catching fire against Cal a week ago, with the bats accounting for 21 runs over the three games against the Utes.
“[The coaches] put me [lead-off] a week and a half ago, and it’s a hard adjustment. And it’s a lot different from hitting two, because you haven’t seen the guy and you haven’t seen where he’s throwing other guys,” Jackson said. “I’ve been working a lot with coaches on my hitting, just trying to find that swing that makes me most comfortable at the plate.”
The bullpen was also rock solid through the first two games, with sophomore Chris Castellanos, sophomore Tyler Thorne and junior Gabe Cramer combining for 10.1 innings of one-run ball on Saturday and Sunday.
It turned out to be critical that the bullpen was so good, because the starting pitching certainly was lacking.
Sophomore Brett Hanewich lasted just 4.2 innings in the series opener on Friday, allowing 6 earned runs in one of his least effective outings of the season. He, like many Cardinal starters this season, struggled with his control, as he walked four batters while also striking out just four.
“The free passes. You just can’t do that,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “When you play good teams — and everybody in our league is a good team — if you give them free bases, then you’re just asking for trouble. Sometimes you can get out of it, but over the long haul, you’re living very dangerously with a lot of free passes, whether that’s bases on balls or defensive errors when you give them an extra out.”
It took a frenzied comeback from the Cardinal hitters, who scored 2 in the fifth and a whopping 6 in the sixth — the Cardinal’s second six-run inning of the season — to take the lead for good and ultimately down the Utes. Stanford sent up 11 hitters in that sixth and notched 5 hits but took advantage of walks and errors to collect those 6 runs.
“It’s big for us, especially at this point in the season where we’re trying to turn things around,” Jackson said. “It gives us hope in games like [Sunday], where we’re down 5-1, 6-1 in the fifth inning. Everyone has faith in the fact that we can come back and we can put up 6 in an inning, and it can become a whole new ballgame.”
Stanford went on to win 10-6 on Friday thanks to Castellanos’ stellar 4.1 hitless innings, in which he only walked two hitters and retired everybody else he faced in rather short order, on just 55 pitches.
Saturday saw the surprise return of junior righty Marc Brakeman, who had been sidelined with an arm injury since Feb. 28, when he last pitched at Rice as the Cardinal’s No. 2 starter in the rotation.
Despite not having pitched in over a month and a half, Brakeman gave the Cardinal three solid innings and struck out two while walking none to set the tone for a dominant outing for the Cardinal hurlers, who limited the Utes to 5 hits and just 1 run in a 8-1 victory.
Jackson added 2 RBIs on 2 hits, while sophomore centerfielder Jack Klein added a career-high 3 RBIs with a run-scoring fielder’s choice and a 2-run single. Sophomore second baseman Tommy Edman also added to the offensive onslaught by driving in 2 — he now has 22 RBIs, most on the team.
The series finale on Sunday was the lowlight of the weekend. Freshman lefty Andrew Summerville, who entered the game on a 12-inning scoreless streak, saw that come to a resounding close, as he allowed 5 runs in his 1.2 innings.
“[The pitchers have] done well at times,” Marquess said. “We’re still a little bit inconsistent with it, but we’ve had some good performances. We weren’t as good today. We’ve been inconsistent. At times we’ve shown some improvement.”
Although every starter apart from freshman catcher Bryce Carter and freshman third baseman Jesse Kuet had hits, the Cardinal fell 11-3. Relievers Logan James and Keith Weisenberg were also hit hard, combining for 5 earned runs in three-plus innings of work.
The Cardinal were without the services of junior designated hitter Austin Barr, who was evaluated for a possible hernia and sat out all three games, and freshman third baseman Mikey Diekroeger, who sat out the final two games due to soreness in his non-throwing arm.
Stanford will need all of its pieces to fall into place in a hurry, as tough matchups loom against Cal on Tuesday and No. 3 UCLA over the weekend.
“The pitching, the defense, the hitting — [UCLA is] very good,” Marquess said. “We’ll have to play well to have a chance to beat them. We’ve got to keep working hard; we’ve got a lot of young players and they’ve been working hard.”
The Cardinal and Golden Bears will begin their duel at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, which will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.