Adam Buschini knew from his own personal experience how coming back from Tommy John surgery can be hard on a position player.
The former Cal Poly baseball standout and current San Diego Padres minor leaguer missed the entire 2008 season for the Mustangs after having his elbow ligament worked on.
So, when news broke this offseason that Cal Poly designated hitter Brian Mundell would have the surgery after a record-breaking freshman season with the Mustangs, Buschini wondered if coming back to start the year might be rushing it for Mundell.
So far, so good — just like everything else for Cal Poly.
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The Mustangs completed a three-game sweep over No. 22 Kansas State with a 10-1 victory at Baggett Stadium on Sunday, and Mundell was at the heart of a trio of Cal Poly run-producers that broke the game open.
Mundell, who set the Mustangs freshman record with 10 home runs last season, was 3 for 3 with two doubles, two RBI and a pair of walks to raise his average to .556. Approximately 7 1⁄2 months removed from surgery, Mundell is on track to be able to play in the field by midseason, and the catcher said he might be even stronger thanks to the focus of his offseason weightlifting regimen.
“Not being able to do arms, being able to do more legs, getting my core stronger and just having a better bat path” have made his swing better, Mundell said. “I’ve been tweaking my swing a little bit and finally got it to the right spot. I feel real good about where it’s at.”
Buschini was the Big West Conference Player of the Year when he came back in 2009 to set the program record for batting average during one of the finest seasons on record at Cal Poly.
Batting cleanup, Mundell could end up on a similar path, and he appears to have plenty of support.
Hitting in front of Mundell, junior right fielder Nick Torres was 2 for 4 with four runs scored and a three-run homer Sunday, upping his average to .462. Batting fifth, senior third baseman Jimmy Allen continued his hot start, going 2 for 3 with three RBI. Allen is hitting .417.
“We looked at our lineup before the season and knew we had something special with the guys that we have,” Torres said. “We’ve really done our best in the offseason to prepare for this, and now that season’s coming around, it’s all coming together. It’s really showing that we’ve got what it takes.
“Mundy wasn’t a big average guy last year with a lot of pop. He’s added so much to his game at the plate. He’s a real complete hitter. Jimmy, too. Jimmy likes to swing the bat. He likes to make things happen at the plate. It’s just great to see that’s all coming together.”
Also congealing is the Mustangs’ pitching staff. After having three pitchers taken in last summer’s MLB Draft, there were some roles to fill. After freshman Slater Lee helped answer some questions in Saturday’s 5-2 victory, sophomore starter Casey Bloomquist and freshman reliever Nick Suniga did the same Sunday.
Bloomquist gave up just three hits and walked none over five scoreless innings before getting into trouble in the sixth.
Protecting a 4-0 lead, he issued his only free pass and hit two batters to load the bases with no outs before Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee brought Suniga in for his collegiate debut.
Suniga allowed only a single inherited run to score and struck out three in two no-hit innings to help Bloomquist earn the win.
Bloomquist wrapped his teammate in a big hug when Suniga came to the dugout after fanning Kansas State catcher Blair DeBord to end the threat with runners on second and third in the sixth.
Together with Matt Imhof’s dominant Friday-night performance, Mustangs pitching allowed three runs on 11 hits in 27 innings.
“Bloomquist was really good for five, and then he just hit the wall,” Larry Lee said. “I think it was a mental wall, and then we brought Suniga, a true freshman in his first outing of the season, and he pitched with a lot of heart.
“There’s still a long way to go to where we need to be as a pitching staff, but it’s a step in the right direction. We really played fairly well in all facets of the game.”
It’s the third consecutive season Cal Poly has opened with a sweep, but this one should open some more eyes.
The Wildcats were coming off a banner season and an appearance in the Super Regionals.
The dominant weekend will certainly help the Mustangs more if Kansas State goes on to have another strong season, but with a Tuesday game at Santa Clara upcoming before a weekend series at UCLA — the site of a heartbreaking Cal Poly defeat in the regionals last season — the momentum could carry over.
“It’s a good motivator,” Torres said. “It’s good to have UCLA next weekend. That’s going to be a big one for us as far as how personal that got last year.”