Head coach David Esquer ’87 knew coming into Friday night’s opener that the relative inexperience of this Cardinal team would present a challenge. Five unearned runs, 13 strikeouts later and a 7-1 loss later, Esquer’s prediction rang true.
“It is a little bit of jitters, a little bit of just opening day stuff, but also just being new at it,” Esquer said.
No. 17 Stanford (0-1, 0-0 Pac-12) could not keep up with Cal State Fullerton (1-0, 0-0 Big West) on opening night, leaving Sunken Diamond with a 7-1 defeat.
The success of last year’s opening-day start was not replicated by junior RHP Brendan Beck. Against Ball State, Beck tossed 6.1 one-run innings with 11 strikeouts. But on Friday, Beck was ouched up for three runs, one earned, in 4.2 innings pitched. The ace struck out three, walked two and left after 78 pitches.
“We’re gonna have to grow into some things, and we knew that going in,” Esquer said. “We got guys playing at different places and guys who have very little experience.”
Even the returners with experience are being pushed into new roles. Senior third baseman Nick Bellafronto broke into the lineup last year, but did not have much experience hitting cleanup, where he was slotted Friday and went 0-for-4 with a sombrero’s worth of strikeouts.
Juniors Tim Tawa and Christian Robinson, the two other starters who saw the most field time last year, were more successful in their new roles. Tawa began the game in center field and moved to shortstop, where he spent the majority of last season, after the struggles of freshman shortstop Adam Crampton. Tawa went 2-for-4 at the plate with a double — a hitting line that was matched by Robinson, who hit fifth and played right field.
Robinson’s single in the sixth inning brought home the Cardinal’s lone run of the night, plating junior first baseman Nick Brueser, who led off the inning with a double.
“[Robinson] has been practicing very well,” Esquer said. “You could just see the maturity of him, of his swing coming along. I think he can help us in center and right field. I mean, he’s probably got the best arm in our outfield, so I feel like he’s a natural right fielder for us.”
Despite four freshman seeing at-bats, including three starters, none recorded a hit in their debut. At the top of the lineup, left fielder Brock Jones went 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts.
Crampton made two errors on three ground balls and went 0-for-2 at the dish. His second error derailed the outing of junior RHP Carson Rudd, who came in relief for Beck and allowed three hits and three unearned runs.
“We played some young guys and guys who haven’t played a whole lot,” Esquer said. “Conceivably, we play defense, what is that, 1-1 going into the seventh?”
Although it was packaged in an unfortunate game, opening day provided a lot of useful lessons.
“What I learned today, we got to get a whole lot better at that game right there,” Esquer said, pointing toward home plate. “Friday night against a pretty solid pitcher.”
“I think in the future, we’re going to be capable of winning that game,” he added. “We’re just going to have to grow into that win, right? The Friday night win you don’t just jump out there and just get to do it, you know. I anticipated that, but I don’t think they [the players] anticipated it.”
According to Robinson, the postgame messaging was to “take it a day at a time.”
“This game isn’t going to define our season, and it’s about coming out tomorrow and playing and competing,” he said.
At the top of the lineup for the Titans, Zach Lew accounted for three runs with a pair of walks and a triple. Fullerton’s seven hits were matched by Stanford, and no one in the visiting lineup recorded more than one hit.
Cardinal sophomore LHP Nicholas Lopez settled the game down with 1.1 scoreless innings and was relieved by graduate transfer RHP Jackson Parthasarathy. The former Rice Sunday starter impressed in his Stanford debut with 2.0 clean innings and two strikeouts.
Redshirt junior RHP Jonathan Worley made his first appearance with Stanford, allowing just the second earned run of the game on two hits and a walk in the ninth inning.
“We’ve all kind of been just waiting to get back out here play,” Robinson said. “It’s nice to play in front of the Sunken fans and play someone else in a different jersey.”
With junior LHP Jacob Palisch two weeks behind due to an apparent injury, freshman LHP Quinn Matthews will make his Cardinal debut tomorrow and sophomore RHP Alex Williams has been pushed from a closing role into the Sunday start. First pitch tomorrow is at 2:05 p.m. PT.
“Quinn Matthews has been great in practice, but this isn’t practice anymore,” Esquer said.