The young Cal pitching staff went through some serious growing pains on Wednesday as the Bears used four hurlers, including three freshmen, during a seven-run sixth inning by San Jose State that handed the Bears a 10-6 loss in their home opener.
The Spartans took the Cal pitchers apart piece by piece during the big inning, using four singles, two walks and two hit batsmen to plate their runs. Cal senior Matt Payne got the worst of it, facing three batters and surrendering a single and hitting two batters. Freshman Jesse Ingram started the inning by loading the bases before giving way to Payne. After Payne came another freshman, Travis Talbott. Talbott started well, striking out Kevin Frandsen, but then gave up a walk and two singles sandwiched around a flyball out, letting in four more runs.
Nine of Cal’s 17 pitchers this season are freshmen, with six of them fresh out of high school. With most high school stars not accustomed to relieving, it could take a while for the Bears’ bullpen to come together behind their solid rotation of upper-class starters.
“We haven’t really defined our roles in the bullpen, because we’re so young out there,” Cal head coach David Esquer said. “You hate to lose games finding that out, but we are finding out who we can use in certain situations.”
Esquer finally found a hot hand in freshman Brent Hale, who got the last out of the interminable sixth by striking out Adam Shorsher. Hale finished the game efficiently, setting down all 10 Spartans he faced, but the damage was already done. San Jose State senior Jahseam George threw the last 5 1/3 innings for the visitors, giving up just one run, a home run by Cal third baseman Conor Jackson. George, a 6-foot-5 fireballer, is a rarity in the college game: a hard-throwing left-hander. He overpowered the Bears with his explosive fastball and deceptive slider, striking out five.
“You just don’t see a lot of guys like that at this level,” Esquer said of George. “He’s very much improved from last year. He’s controlling his pitches, which he didn’t used to do.”
One bright spot for the Bears (1-3) was the continued hot streak at the plate by Jackson. The sophomore third baseman went 3-for-5 with a triple and a single to go with his second homer of the season, driving in three runs. Jackson is now hitting .529 and leads the club in home runs and RBIs.
“Conor’s been swinging the bat very well for us,” Esquer said. “We may have to ride his hot bat for a while.”
Cal lost despite getting more hits than the Spartans and not allowing an extra-base hit.
The Bears got a quick start, chasing Spartan starter Frank Esposito before he could finish a full inning. Jackson got things started with a two-out triple to bring home leadoff man David Nicholson, and second baseman Carson White and designated hitter Matt Einspahr followed with RBI singles before Esposito was yanked with a 3-0 Cal lead. Shortstop Jeff Dragicevich flew out to deep right to end the inning.
The Spartans (4-0) tied the game in the third inning, getting three unearned runs after Dragicevich threw away a Dino Quintero grounder to start the inning. Frandsen and first baseman Bryan Baker both had run-scoring singles off of Cal starter Joe Todoroff to tie the game.
Ben Conley put the Bears ahead again an inning later, fouling off four two-strike pitches before driving a double to left-center to bring home Nicholson. Jackson followed with a two-out single to bring home Conley, but that would be the last Cal run other than Jackson’s seventh-inning round-tripper.