Cal Poly

Cal Poly baseball team enters series with rare momentum

Outfielder Bobby Crocker is the only Cal Poly player to play in all 40 of the Mustangs’ games this season.
Outfielder Bobby Crocker is the only Cal Poly player to play in all 40 of the Mustangs’ games this season. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Not content with being a symbol of what’s wrong with the Cal Poly baseball team, Jordan Hadlock is part of what’s been going right recently.

The sophomore catcher sports a team-high .366 batting average in a part-time role that’s more recently expanded into a starting spot.

Perhaps more impressively, Hadlock is playing capably at third base for injured starter Evan Busby and his hurt backup Corey Dotzler at a position he hasn’t fielded since his sophomore year at Douglas High in Gardnerville, Nev.

“I just talked to our regular third baseman Busby and J.J. Thompson, who moved over to short, and they said just get your glove out there, make a pick,” said Hadlock, who shifted over as an injury replacement at third last Friday and has started three straight games on the hot corner. “It’s pretty fast over there. There’s not much time to think. I think that’s good for me, not having much time to think.”

Though it may just be coincidence, Cal Poly (13-27, 5-10 Big West Conference) is undefeated in Hadlock’s three starts at third.

The Mustangs go into today’s 6 p.m. series opener against visiting UC Irvine (27-15, 8-4 Big West Conference) coming off their first weekend series victory after taking two of three from Long Beach State and with an overall three-game winning streak, their first of the season.

Branded with an injury list that could almost make up its won starting lineup, the Mustangs have suddenly gotten things going in a positive direction.

While the injuries have been one reason for the team’s decline following the program’s first NCAA Division I regional appearance last spring, the play of fill-ins like Busby and Denver Chavez is showing that losing isn’t mandatory.

To review, the current crop of injured players includes: Busby, Dotzler, second baseman Matt Jensen, designated hitter D.J. Gentile, infielder Mike Miller and pitchers Mason Radeke and Steven Fischback.

Centerfielder Mitch Haniger and catcher Ross Brayton have also missed time because of injury.

That said, Mustangs sophomore outfielder Bobby Crocker said there is no better time to face the second-place Anteaters, who they’ll take on in the series finale Sunday at 2 p.m. in a game televised nationally on ESPNU.

“We have a very good collective group of power and situational guys in the lineup right now,” said Crocker, the only player to appear in all 40 games for Cal Poly. “It might not be our best lineup missing guys like Gentile and Jensen, who are huge RBI and power contributors — it’s a huge bummer that both those kids are hurt — but we’re just getting by with what we have right now.

“The guys who have stepped up, guys like Denver, who stepped up for Jensen, have really worked out.”

Chavez, a redshirt freshman who hadn’t played a game prior to this past weekend, started at second and hit .400 against Long Beach State. After an 0-for-4 game in Tuesday’s 7-3 win at Fresno State, his average dropped to .316, but he and Hadlock as well as some other reserves have been credited for the recent resurgence.

Haniger has been slotted at designated hitter, and Eugene Wright has emerged as a solid Sunday starter for a rotation that was limping after losing Radeke after just four starts.

Ironically, Friday starter Matt Leonard, winless in six decisions, is charged with keeping the season’s longest winning streak going.

The lefty’s record is somewhat deceiving. Of the Cal Poly starters, he has the lowest ERA at 5.80, but he has been the victim of some blown leads.

“Some of it’s out of my control,” Leonard said. “I can only do my part, and everyone is doing their best. It just hasn’t gone our way or my way, for that matter.”

With centerfielder Adam Melker coming on strong in recent weeks, Crocker hitting consistently and guys like Hadlock, Thompson and Chavez buoying the bottom half of the lineup, Crocker said forging a winning record in the team remaining game is the main goal.

The Mustangs are not playing for a postseason berth, but — even with a few of the regulars on the mend and an overall record in the dumps — the attention hasn’t yet been focused toward next season.

Not with the fill-ins making the most of their opportunities.

“Everyone’s here for a reason,” Leonard said. “Everyone’s playing at this level because they’re good enough to be on the team. I have just as much confidence going out there now that someone’s going to make the play for me.”

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