The UC Davis baseball team knew the length of time it took its staff of inexperienced pitchers to develop would determine how long it’d take for the club to contend this season.
It also knew it’d be returning the heart of a lineup that led it to a NCAA Tournament berth last season, which, in theory, could provide enough offense to compete early on as the team bided time for its young arms to come along.
That hasn’t been the case.
You expect a pitching staff to struggle when it loses 85 percent of its innings pitched from the season prior to the Major League Baseball Draft or graduation. (Still, a 6.22 team ERA is really, really high.)
You don’t expect, however, a lineup that boasted a .316 batting average last year to put up that same number as its on base percentage the following season; the Aggies (3-16, 0-2 Big West Conference) are hitting .244 as a team.
These numbers beg a rather straightforward question: What the hell happened?
“It’s easy to say we’ve been struggling,” said Ryan Scoma, who’s hitting .219 after putting up a .358 average last season. “We’ve managed some hits. It’s just about putting them together now.“
Stringing quality at bats together when the team needs them most has been UC Davis‘ Achilles‘ heel all season.
Take Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Stanford for example. UC Davis rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh, but stranded a man in scoring position. It also left a pair of runners on in both the second and fourth frames.
“We’re two good at bats away in the right situations from winning the ballgame,” coach Rex Peters said. “We had a chance to put crooked numbers on the board a couple of times, but didn’t get the hits when we needed them. … If we get a couple good at bats at the right time, it’s a different story.“
Instead, the Aggies wrote another chapter of an all too familiar story, falling by three runs or less for the seventh time this season.
UC Davis has been getting its share of hits as of late, though; it’s put 32 on the board in its past three games. The problem is it’s left 18 on base, losing each of those contests in the process.
That’s what makes this frustrating. It’s not like the Aggies can’t hit. They’re getting runners on – they just haven’t been bringing them home.
“The pieces of the puzzle are there,” Scoma said. “Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to a good pitching performance. Other times maybe it is confidence related. I don’t quite know if that’s the issue, but it shouldn’t be. … We need to start turning things around, start putting those pieces together.“
Peters said UC Davis needs to limit the anxiety that comes with hitting with runners in scoring position if it wants to solve this puzzle.
“When young hitters get in those clutch situations, they get nervous,” Peters said. “They try to do a little bit too much. They chase pitches out of the zone, get a little jumpy, get a little long with their swing.
“You just have to be patient. You have to slow the game down. You have to get a pitch you can handle and put a good swing on it. We’re not doing that.“
Once the Aggies start doing that, their offense will begin looking a whole lot more like last season’s.
Hopefully, just in time for those young pitchers to come around, too.
ADAM LOBERSTEIN thinks Tuesday would be a good day for the Aggies to bring runners home. UC Davis hosts defending national champion Fresno State at 2:30 p.m. He’ll see you there and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.