A rough season and a troublingly long list of injuries were only exacerbated for the Cal Poly baseball team, which dropped a Big West Conference series-opener to Long Beach State 12-8 at Baggett Stadium on Friday.
Second baseman Matt Jensen was lost during the week after dislocating his knee at practice, and during Friday’s game, third baseman Corey Dotzler, an injury replacement himself, left after dislocating his shoulder sliding back to first base.
Relief pitcher Joey Wagman also prematurely left the mound with a triceps injury, and all that was with the Mustangs (10-27, 3-10 Big West) already shuffling around the lineup.
At one point late in the game, catcher Jordan Hadlock got his first career action at third base and helped spur Cal Poly to a four-run ninth-inning rally that cut into a chasm of a lead for the 49ers (20-18, 7-6 Big West).
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“You have to roll the dice and it can hurt you, but you need to find out things,” Mustangs head coach Larry Lee said.
“We’re not in a position where we’re going to fight for the league title or fight for playoffs or anything like that. It’s about getting players that have earned the right to be out there and see what happens. They’re being evaluated every day.”
Centerfielder Mitch Haniger is being limited to the designated hitter’s role while he deals with a back injury. Catcher Ross Brayton has been hobbling as well and got the start at first base.
Including Denver Chavez, who hasn’t played in two seasons but got the start at second in place of Jensen, there were three backups in the starting lineup.
Infielders Evan Busby and Mike Miller have hurt backs, and regular designated hitter D.J. Gentile has a bad wrist.
And none of that includes injuries to the pitching staff. Ace starter Mason Radeke has been out for nearly two months with arm trouble, and projected starter Steven Fischback is sitting out his second straight season recovering from a shoulder injury.
The injuries have made a disappointing season even more bitter.
“Last year, we had a lot of players miss games due to the flu that ran through us for three months,” Lee said. “We were decimated by that each week, but this season, we have three lower back injuries, knee, shoulder, another shoulder, kind of not your typical injuries, more on the freak side. There doesn’t really (seem) to be any common denominator of why they’re getting hurt.
“We’re far from being a very good team at this point in the season, so you have to find individual successes and small successes, things that you can build on for the future.”
Through the injury cloud, there were a few glimpses of silver.
Adam Melker batted 3 for 4 with two doubles, three runs and raised his season batting average 16 points.
Despite the back issues, Haniger was 2 for 3 with two RBI and leads the team with a .343 average. Relief pitcher Tommy Erlin came on to pitch 31⁄3 shutout innings while striking out four and walking just one. And in his first action in a while, Chavez batted 2 for 5 with a run and an RBI.
Cal Poly even had the tying run at the plate with one out in the ninth, but David Van Ostrand lined out hard to left, and J.J. Thompson got doubled up for the final out while wandering too far from second base. The loss went to starter Matt Leonard, who is still winless on the season at 0-6. Leonard lasted 4 1⁄3 innings and was charged with nine earned runs. He allowed 13 hits while neither walking or striking out a batter.
Andrew Gagnon earned the win for Long Beach State, striking out seven in seven innings, and the Mustangs fell to just 4-25 in the past 29 games just a year after advancing to the program’s first NCAA Division I regional.
“It’s tough because I hate being embarrassed,” Lee said. “My name is on the product and I don’t enjoy seeing some of the things that take place, but I think that’s where we’re at right now.”