Quiet Bats, Errors Cost ‘Eaters
UCI 3, Washington 4
In 2011, the Anteater baseball team dropped just one home series, losing two of three at Cicerone Field to Long Beach State. The series came in late-May and immediately followed Friday starter, Matt Summers’, no-hitter to start the series. UC Irvine already lost their first home series of the year this past weekend, sandwiching a Saturday win with Friday and Sunday losses to the University of Washington Huskies.
Irvine’s troubles came at the plate and defensively from the third base position against the Huskies. The Anteaters hit .252 in three games against a team that entered the series with a team earned run average that ballooned over six runs per game in their first four contests of the young season.
Over at the hot corner, manager Mike Gillespie altered the lineup throughout the series, but couldn’t find a comfortable fit. Senior Tommy Reyes, who played second base last season, has been shifting between second and third early in the season.
On Friday night, Reyes made a key error at third as his throw tailed away from first baseman Jordan Fox.
Reyes shifted back to second on Sunday, giving freshman Chris Rabago a chance on the corner. Rabago struggled, making two errors, one of which was a game-changer and lead to three unearned runs in a 4-3 loss. Replacing gold glove third baseman Brian Hernandez — now in the Angels’ farm system — is no small task, a lesson that Gillespie and his team is learning through growing pains.
Irvine dropped to 4-3 with the series loss, one year after starting 7-0.
Senior Crosby Slaught started on Sunday, tossing five innings. Slaught dropped to 0-2 despite a miniscule 1.62 ERA. The righty gave up four runs in the top of the fourth, surrendering one home run and three unearned runs after Rabago committed his second error of the afternoon.
Frustrated with his team’s lack of offensive production, Gillespie sat senior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer — hitting .136 — in favor of freshman Jerry McClanahan. Senior Scott Gottschling also rode the pine on Sunday after starting the season with a .095 average.
“We’ll monkey around with [the lineup] a little bit, but it’s not like we can take six guys out of the lineup,” Gillespie said. “By and large, the guys that are doing the playing are the guys that have done the best. We might take one or two guys out of the lineup and give others a shot at it, but [the lineup] is the issue right now.”
The Anteaters responded by hitting 10-33 in the series finale, scoring once in the second and twice in the fifth. Freshmen picked up the slack, contributing seven of the team’s 10 hits.
But a minor offensive spark wasn’t enough to erase the fourth inning defensive blemish.
UCI 8, Washington 7
UCI put eight runs on the board on Saturday afternoon, one day after being shut out by the Washington Huskies.
Irvine jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third. With the game tied at four, the ’Eaters rallied for four runs in the bottom of the seventh.
Freshman designated hitter Connor Spencer, a choir singer last year at Trabuco Canyon High School, sang the national anthem prior to the game, but his teammates were singing his praises after Spencer clinched the win with a three-run triple in the four-run seventh.
Seniors shortstop D.J. Crumlich (2-4), centerfielder Christian Ramirez (1-2) and first baseman Jordan Fox (2-3) were a combined 5-9 as the one-two-three hitters, scoring five of the Anteaters’ eight runs.
Sophomore starter Andrew Thurman nursed a tight shoulder in the final off-season weeks and continues to try to regain his form. After facing the minimum through three, Thurman struggled in the fourth and fifth innings. The righty tossed 4.2 innings in game two of the three game series, surrendering four earned runs, while striking out six.
“[Thurman has been recovering] pretty good,” Gillespie said. “He’s got to get out there and get some innings under him to get to where he should be.”
Relievers Jimmy Litchfield and Nick Hoover combined for 2.1 innings of scoreless work out of the bullpen, but sophomore righty Phillip Ferragamo made the game interesting in the top of the eighth — shaving a four-run lead down to a one-run advantage. Gillespie stuck with the 6-foot-8 reliever, as Ferragamo locked down the victory with a scoreless ninth inning.
UCI 0, Washington 3
After falling 3-2 in their home opener against UNLV on Feb. 20, the Anteaters started off their first 2012 series at Cicerone Field on a sour note, losing 3-0 to the Washington Huskies.
Tim Lincecum is a Huskies alumna, and on Friday evening Irvine made Washington starter Aaron West look like Tiny Tim. West tossed six scoreless innings, relinquishing just three hits. He held the ’Eaters hitless through three and rode a three-run lead after junior southpaw Matt Whitehouse surrendered a few runs early in his five innings of work.
“Whitehouse was good tonight, but his command was not,” Gillespie said. “He’ll be better, he’ll get better.”
UCI couldn’t buy a run against the Huskies. The ’Eaters were easy outs throughout the evening as West induced several lazy fly-outs and coaxed Irvine hitters into getting themselves out early in counts.
“We need to be tougher outs,” Gillespie said.
Whitehouse struck out six, giving up eight hits and a walk before handing the ball over to Kyle Hooper in the sixth.
“It was a tough one,” Whitehouse said. “The bats will come around. In the meantime, we just have to work through it and the pitchers need to pick up our hitters. We can’t be giving up three runs like I did today when our hitters are having a tough time at the plate.”
The silver lining in the loss came Fox at first base and Hooper out of the bullpen. Fox was the only ’Eater with two hits on an evening in which UCI’s four through nine hitters were a combined 1-19.
Tossing the sixth through the ninth, Hooper struck out six in four innings of work, including the entire side in the top of the ninth.
On the road in Waco, Texas this week, the Anteaters will play a double header against Lamar and Baylor on Friday.
For a team that has annually eclipsed the .300 mark in the past five seasons, Gillespie knows that he’s been spoiled by veteran lineups in years past. He also knows that his pitching staff must carry the burden in 2012.
“If we’re going to be a playoff team, Whitehouse and Thurman have to be better. It’s not like we’re hoping and wishing — we’ve seen it [from those guys]. It’s in there.”