By Rob Moseley
Early in Tuesday’s practice, the Oregon baseball team ran a drill called “beat the infield." It was at that point when assistant coach Mark Wasikowski snapped the Ducks out of the existential crisis that set in last weekend in Corvallis.
The point of “beat the infield” is for the UO outfielders to scald line drives and grounders at their infield counterparts. Those infielders were putting on a show in the drill Tuesday, fielding tough hops, turning double plays.
Still, the mood at practice, two days after OSU finished off a sweep of the Ducks on Sunday, was moribund. The field should have been ringing with a chorus of “attaboys,” but instead, nothing.
In the middle of the drill, Wasikowski put a stop to practice and brought the team together. His message, in a nutshell, was, hey, we’re still a pretty good team, and we’re having a pretty good practice. Let’s act like it.
“It was kind of a wake-up call, to make sure there was no hangover after the weekend,” UO outfielder Tyler Baumgartner said.
What ensued, after the pep talk from Wasikowski, was “a great practice,” Baumgartner said. The Ducks brought that revitalized spirit into the next day, Oregon’s senior right fielder said, and intend to do so this weekend in a three-game series against Arizona beginning Friday at PK Park (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“It tends to knock you on your rear end, and nothing seems to be good, when you hit that rock bottom,” UO coach George Horton said. “We’ve got to understand it’s a game, and we still have more games. We’ve got to appreciate each other and the things we do well, and correct the things we’re not doing so well.”
The sweep in Corvallis denied the Ducks a chance to take over second place in the Pac-12, and knocked them out of Baseball America’s national top 25. Oregon (31-13, 10-8 Pac-12) instead enters the weekend in fifth place in the conference, percentage points behind Arizona State and USC at 12-9.
Arizona (18-25, 7-14) sits in 10th place among the 11 conference baseball participants, despite being the Pac-12’s top hitting team with a .285 team average. Second baseman Trent Gilbert and outfielder Zach Gibbons share the conference lead with 58 hits, and shortstop Kevin Newman is third with 56; center fielder Scott Kingery is hitting a team-high .365, with an OPS of .970.
“They’re going to be a handful,” Horton said. “So if we’re still busy looking backwards in the rear-view mirror at what happened at Oregon State … then Arizona is going to come in and have their way with us.”
That lineup will face a UO pitching rotation that will include, for the first time in conference play this season, senior right hander Brando Tessar. A midweek starter to this point in the spring, Tessar is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA; he takes a scoreless streak of 15 1/3 innings into Sunday’s start against the Wildcats, replacing freshman Trent Paddon in the rotation behind Tommy Thorpe and Jeff Gold.
Oregon’s hitters will face an Arizona staff that brings a 4.61 ERA into the weekend. That sets up as a welcome respite after the Ducks were stifled by Beaver pitching last weekend.
The Ducks got a 3-for-45 performance from the top four spots in the batting order in Corvallis. Part of that owed to the formidable OSU rotation, but Oregon’s batters took some blame too, though No. 3 hitter Mitchell Tolman said there was no single common issue to address.
“It’s different for everyone,” Tolman said. “You look at stuff on video and see where you could improve; I know I was pulling off a little bit this weekend, so I’ve worked on staying through the ball. But it’s different for everyone.”
Baumgartner said he made a point of seeking out hitting coach Wasikowski in his office for video review of his own swing. They picked up a flaw in Baumgartner’s at-bats against Oregon State, which he was working to eliminate this week.
“It’s just a small adjustment that I had to make, but a little, small thing in your swing can be drastic,” Baumgartner said.
That seemed to be the theme for Oregon in picking up the pieces after being swept in Corvallis. There was no need for dramatic changes, but instead attention to detail – and an attitude adjustment, which Wasikowski provided in practice on Tuesday.