When Casey Bloomquist and Mark Mathias were hurt in the Cal Poly baseball team’s first series loss of the season last weekend, it was a devastating combination.
The No. 4 Mustangs (36-8, 12-3 Big West Conference) are trying not to let that spoil what still remains the most remarkable season in school history.
Cal Poly will get Bloomquist back, possibly Mathias as well, for this weekend’s series at UC Riverside (19-21, 7-5 Big West), but regardless of the combinations in the lineup or pitching rotation, the Mustangs have to figure out how to stem the tide of their first three-game losing streak to get back on track to finishing as one of the nation’s best.
“When you lose, which is inevitable in baseball, it’s tough,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “We lost three straight, and we haven’t played that well. We just have to be able to have the right mindset.
“We just have to realize that we’re still in a good position. And we want to get that good feeling back that we had, that confident feeling. Right now, we don’t have it, and it just shows you how fragile this game is and how quickly things can turn.”
Things turned quickly in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Long Beach State in the series finale.
In the span of an inning, Mathias, a sophomore second baseman and the team’s leading hitter, bruised his heel running out a double-play ball to first base in the fifth.
Then Taylor Chris replaced Bloomquist on the mound to start the sixth after the starter and team leader in wins and ERA hyperextended his knee earlier in the game.
Hitting .393 with a 38 runs, 59 hits and a .460 on-base percentage — all team highs — Mathias had been the catalyst that helped the Mustangs offense become the top hitting team in the conference.
Lee said tests revealed no significant damage to Mathias’s foot, but that the injury remains day-to-day. Mathias did not practice Wednesday but could be back on the field today and will be a game-time decision for Friday’s 6 p.m. opener against the Highlanders.
The batting order saw a huge shakeup in Mathias’ absence. In Tuesday’s 11-4 loss at Pepperdine, catcher Chris Hoo moved from batting ninth to leadoff, and sophomore shortstop Peter Van Gansen went from eighth to second.
Freshman Ryan Rosa played second base for Mathias, but now with just three walks in only 10 plate appearances on the season, Rosa remains hitless.
Those weren’t the only changes.
Tommy Pluschkell made his first start of the year at first base, and with an average slumping to .258, junior centerfielder Jordan Ellis was moved down in the order.
“Not only do you take out the best bat in the lineup,” Lee said about losing Mathias, “you take out solid defense up the middle and you need to be strong there. It’s evident when he’s not in the lineup.
“There are too many changes that you have to make from an offensive and defensive standpoint, and none of those options are as good as having him in the lineup.”
Even though junior lefty starter Matt Imhof has deservedly been the focus of draft hype, Bloomquist has been slightly more effective.
He was 9-0 in nine starts before Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, which only increased his ERA to 1.27, and Bloomquist was not happy to be lifted after allowing one run on seven hits in only five innings coming off his first career shutout in the prior week’s 3-0 victory against Cal State Fullerton.
“I hate leaving a game early,” Bloomquist said. “That’s one thing I really don’t like. I like finishing what I start. It’s something that I like to do on my own, not rely on other people too much. It’s not that I don’t trust my bullpen at all. It’s always different when it’s you out there.”
Bloomquist will be back out there Sunday. He said he was limited in the days following the game but was close to 100 percent Wednesday and expects to be back to full health this weekend.
With 11 games left in the regular season, Cal Poly should have a healthy Bloomquist for the rest of the year and expects Mathias back sooner rather than later.
The Mustangs are only hoping the bigger injury is not to their collective ego.
After ascending to the top three in every major poll and even to the No. 1 spot in one, the recent losses feel like a deflating step back.
To take another step forward, Bloomquist said each individual has gone back to studying their notes from when things were going well to try to emulate that period.
Concern has been tempered by the realization that the team is still well ahead of reasonable expectations.
“It would have been pretty outrageous to think a team would have gone 49-5 on the year,” Bloomquist said, “and it’s baseball. Some days aren’t going to go your way.
“We just happened to lose three in a row. Some people might show a little panic, but we’re not going to worry about it.”