Cal Poly has become a baseball team with little margin for error.
With a few big bats gone because of injury, Mustangs head coach Larry Lee knows his team has to focus its efforts on pitching and defense.
It can’t afford to falter on either.
“That’s who we are,” Lee said. “With the group we’re throwing out there, we’re not that offensive. We have to pitch, play defense and just scrap for a run and try to win a low-scoring ballgame.”
When the Mustangs (7-9) do that, they can compete with the best — when they don’t, they can’t — and a doubleheader split with No. 24 UCLA (9-7) showed two extreme ends of the spectrum.
Cal Poly starter Mason Radeke scattered five hits over 7 1⁄3 innings, and closer Jeff Johnson came on to get the final five outs to save a 2-1 victory in the first game at Baggett Stadium.
Then, still without three lineup regulars, the Mustangs allowed six runs behind lefty starter Kyle Anderson in the first two innings before dropping the nightcap 8-0 in a three-hit shutout loss.
“I feel happy about it,” Radeke said. “These guys were in the World Series last year, and to be able to take a split, that’s a win in my book.”
Against a defending College World Series finalist with two starting pitchers who could both be high draft picks, Cal Poly can pair its impressive victory Monday with one it got over No. 10 Fresno State earlier this month.
Bruins standout pitcher Gerrit Cole (1.57 ERA) was on a pitch count in anticipation of a weekend series with Pac-10 rival USC and only lasted two innings, but Cal Poly played successful small ball, parlaying a couple of sacrifice bunts into a run-scoring single and an RBI groundout.
Radeke struck out eight, and his only blemish was a solo home run allowed in the eighth. Johnson got out of an eighth-inning jam and struck out two to help lower his season ERA to 0.87.
Then when UCLA gave Game 2 starter Trevor Bauer (1.40 ERA) six runs to work with early on, it was like tipping a waiter 100 percent.
“We knew that Bauer’s a guy who throws the ball really well, and he’s a guy you beat one-nothing, two-one,” said Mustangs outfielder Bobby Crocker, who batted 5 for 8 on the day and scored the winning run in the first game. “They got on us early, and offensively, we weren’t going to let up, but he’s a guy who competes for all seven innings he threw.”
Bauer allowed just two hits and struck out 12, combining with two relievers for the shutout.
Cal Poly’s offensive struggles came against a pitching staff with a team ERA of only 1.71, but the injuries only exacerbated the Mustangs’ offensive woes.
Former freshman All-America second baseman Matt Jensen was removed from the lineup after revealing he had been swinging with pain in his hand all season and could no longer grip a bat.
Batting leader and starting shortstop Mike Miller (.457 BA) hurt his wrist taking batting practice and is in no better shape than Jensen.
And freshman first baseman Tim Wise (.345 BA), the only other Mustangs player hitting better than .300 coming into the series, is battling a hamstring injury.
Because of the nature of each injury, there’s no telling exactly how long the trio will be out, but Lee said even the best-case scenario would see them all missing today’s game at Pepperdine and the weekend series against visiting Minnesota.
“What you don’t want to have happen is having any of those three come back too early and re-aggravate it and then really have them missing a big portion of the season,” Lee said. “We’ll have them come back 100 percent and have them finish the season, whenever that may be.”