It was the same old story — except that it wasn’t.
Yes, the Cal Poly baseball team was let down once again by its defense in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Sacramento State. The Mustangs (5-10) also struggled at the plate, the 15th consecutive game without Mark Mathias and Brian Mundell together on the same lineup card.
Only, this time, there appeared one major sign of progress. Ace pitcher Casey Bloomquist’s effort in defeat might be just the thing to rekindle some hope in a season seemingly lost.
Bloomquist had his best outing of the season against the Hornets (9-7), allowing only two runs, none earned, on five hits and two walks while striking out nine in 7 2⁄3 innings. While Bloomquist fell to 0-2, Cal Poly remains confident it can win the final two games in the four-game series, today’s 6 p.m. matchup and Sunday’s 1 p.m. finale.
It was the junior right-hander’s longest outing and highest strikeout total of the season. It was the first time all year Bloomquist showed the prowess that made him an All-American in 2014.
“Today, some stuff clicked mentally and physically,” Bloomquist said. “I felt like I was back to my normal self. Best game of the year for sure, attacking hitters, going after guys and just being me. That’s what I needed to get back to.”
For some reason, Bloomquist wasn’t himself over his first three starts, during which he amassed a 5.87 ERA. Pitching on Sundays last season, Bloomquist shined. He lost just two games and led the staff with a 1.56 ERA.
A control pitcher with downward-moving stuff, Bloomquist had been hit hard when he left pitches up early this year. He was also moving into a new role as the Friday night starter, being matched up against opposing teams’ best pitchers and getting every hitter’s fresh eyes.
Despite the loss, Friday’s was the first outing of the season Bloomquist could take pride in, and he said it got him back on track.
“I just felt a little out of whack, not attacking guys,” Bloomquist said. “I wasn’t being passive, but something just wasn’t clicking. I wasn’t myself, and I kind of panicked. I searched for answers but finally found it, and now I’m just going to be me.”
Bloomquist’s renewed confidence was definitely noticed by the rest of the team. Mathias, who continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery but is hitting a team-leading .429 as a designated hitter, apologized to Bloomquist after the game for failing to back him up with runs.
“I saw the Casey Bloomquist that pitched all of last year,” Mathias said. “He pitched with a little bit of swagger and a little bit of intent. That was definitely a big step forward for him. I think after this outing, he can keep it rolling and get more outs and do what he’s been doing the best the whole last year.”
All of the Mustangs’ problems certainly won’t get fixed overnight.
The two runs scored against Bloomquist came on a two-run single by Sacramento State’s Chris Lewis — only after Cal Poly fielding and throwing errors put two runners on and Bloomquist loaded the bases with a walk in the fourth inning.
Cal Poly had three errors in the game. It was the fifth time this season the Mustangs have had so many miscues. The 26 total errors have led to 28 unearned runs and some very unflattering comparisons to last season’s NCAA regional host.
Last year, Cal Poly had just three three-error games and didn’t total 10 losses until May 9. “We don’t play very good defense, and we give teams too many opportunities,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said.
The focus also shifted to the plate, where the Mustangs had three hits. Hornets starter Bennan Leitao pitched eight shutout innings without a walk while striking out seven, and Chad Perry finished Cal Poly off with a perfect inning of relief.
Mundell, who has been out of the starting lineup since tweaking his hamstring three weeks ago, pinch hit and made the final out of the game.
Mundell is hitting .381 and is close to making a return to first base. He and Mathias, expected to be staples coming into the season, might start the same game for the first time by next weekend’s home series against USC.
“We’ve just got to get more production out of some of the hitters in our lineup,” Lee said. “We’ve been relying on the same guys over and over. We’re a step closer to getting Mundell and Mathias in the same lineup. We haven’t had both of them in the lineup at the same time, and it definitely shows because it puts pressure on the other players.”
Mathias has resumed throwing on his surgically repaired shoulder but is still likely weeks away from returning to the field. The best-case scenario would have him cleared by the start of conference play. Even then, he could step in at first base before returning to his home at second.
Scoring runs to back its suddenly resurgent ace seem to be taking priority over defense at this point.
“It’s tough being a DH and not being able to put in my work in the infield and make good plays,” Mathias said. “Errors happen but we can’t really look at the errors. We put up zero runs. So, no matter how many errors we made, we’re not going to win.”