By Jose Saldana
After a successful first week to start the season, No. 12 Stanford baseball (4-0) will host a four-game series with Rice (3-1) starting on Thursday in Sunken Diamond.
Before Wednesday practice, Stanford head coach David Esquer discussed what he liked from his team during the opening week of college baseball.
“I think our team did a great job stepping up for Duke Kinamon,” Esquer said. “Jesse Kuet moving over [to second base], Kyle Stowers to left field and [Tim] Tawa to third base…I thought without blinking [an] eye that they did a great job of just stepping up for [Kinamon].”
“It’s been great to see us come out with four wins to start the year,” sophomore first baseman Andrew Daschbach said before practice. “I think our pitching and defense is what carries us all year.”
Kinamon, the team’s starting second baseman, suffered an injury during warmups before the first game of the season forcing Esquer to alter the lineup.
He praised his top-two pitchers in juniors Tristan Beck and Kris Bubic.
Beck earned Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week after going six innings, giving up four hits, allowing only one earned run and striking out five batters against Cal State Fullerton. His performance was a nice sign for the right-hander who hadn’t pitched since May 2016.
“I was mainly concerned with getting outs, keeping my pitch count down and being able to help the team win,” Beck said.
He certainly assuaged his concerns and more by picking up the first win for a Cardinal pitcher in 2018.
Freshman Brendan Beck, the younger of the two Becks, also managed a victory for the Cardinal. Although he got the win, it was still unusual to see a freshman start a game so early without significant injuries.
“Almost last man available,” Esquer answered when asked why Beck started. “We held him back knowing that he would start, and he did a good job. He had been pitching really well in scrimmages against our A-team and so it wasn’t a surprise he did so well.”
The younger Beck pitched 5.2 innings, gave up five hits, allowed two runs to score and struck out three batters.
“We are going to need a freshman [to step up],” Esquer said, referring to his freshman pitchers. “And we have more than one with [Jacob] Palisch and [Austin] Weiermiller stepping up, but we are going to need a freshman to perform this season to kind of round out our pitching staff.”
The freshman relief pitchers have performed solidly, but a sophomore has really taken a hold of the late innings.
Right-handed pitcher Jack Little has found himself in the 8th and 9th innings, closing for the Cardinal. Little has pitched 4.1 innings in three appearances and has already racked up two saves.
“We are going to keep [Little] in that role as closer to start with for sure,” Esquer said. “Hopefully, he can grow in that position. He has done a great job for us.”
Someone who could have filled that role this past week was sophomore Will Matthiessen, but according to Esquer, he had a minor injury in his arm and the coaching staff expects to have him back in the next couple of weeks.
Switching from pitching to offense, Esquer talked about the play of junior shortstop Nico Hoerner, who is hitting .533 with two doubles and one triple and has stolen four bases in four games.
“[Hoerner] has been doing the little things,” Esquer praised. “His leadership has been phenomenal for us, and he does a great job setting the tone for our team, figuratively and literally by being the leadoff hitter.”
Joining Hoerner on a great first week hitting the ball is junior right fielder Brandon Wulff. Wulff, hitting cleanup, is batting .462 and has an on-base percentage of .563.
“He could hurt you with doubles and home runs,” Esquer said of the right fielder. “Having him there and kind of stabilizing the middle of our order has been big.”
Freshman Tawa has been a spark for the Cardinal. Originally slated for center field, Tawa had to move to third base after Kinamon’s injury.
“I was not surprised by [Hoerner’s] performance,” Daschbach said. “But seeing [Tawa] step up, getting his first career start thinking he was going to be out in center field and then 10 minutes before game time being called to play third base…that was a pretty gutty move by him.”
The Cardinal will start sophomore Erik Miller on the mound against Rice today at 6:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast by Stanford Live Stream.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.