By Rob Moseley
Entering a stretch of seven games in nine days, the Oregon baseball team will need a big contribution from its bullpen starting Tuesday afternoon at San Francisco.
In another year, or for another team, that might be a concern. Not for the Ducks, coming off 13 scoreless innings out of the ‘pen in the first two weekends of Pac-12 play.
The UO baseball team took two of three from USC and swept Utah without allowing a run in relief, putting the Ducks at 5-1 in conference play, tied for first with Washington and UCLA. New closer Jake Reed saved the first two games against the Utes, then sat aside while Darrell Hunter pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save Sunday.
“It was a situation where I could have gone three,” Reed said. “But I wasn’t 100 percent. My arm wasn’t there. Darrell’s perfectly capable of going out and getting a save for us, and he did. He did great.”
The Ducks have a lot of capable guys in their bullpen, all of whom have been perfect in Pac-12 play so far, at least when it comes to allowing runs. Over the 13 scoreless innings against the Trojans and Utes, UO relievers allowed two hits and struck out 13 batters while walking three.
No. 11 Oregon (17-5) plays at San Francisco on both Tuesday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. Tuesday’s starter will be left-hander Porter Clayton, who will be on a pitch count to ensure he’s available for a three-game series that starts Friday at Stanford.
This will be Clayton’s second start of the year, and the Ducks understandably want him available this weekend as well. Clayton has thrown six scoreless innings in relief this season, with seven strikeouts and no walks.
“We have guys that can throw three or four innings if they have to, and we have guys that can come in for a batter – lefty and righty,” Reed said. “That’s huge to have.”
Reed, a converted starter, has replaced Jimmie Sherfy as the closer without a hiccup so far. He has a 1.42 ERA in 11 appearances, with seven saves and a 2-0 record. Eighth-inning guy Garrett Cleavinger also is 2-0 in 11 appearances, with 15 strikeouts and five walks; Cleavinger has nine scoreless appearances, but was touched up enough in the two others to sport a 5.00 ERA.
The other workhorse out of the bullpen has been freshman right-hander Trent Paddon, whose seven appearances in relief are third on the team. Paddon sports a 1.50 ERA and 11 strikeouts with no walks, despite struggling to command his offspeed pitches.
Paddon relied almost entirely on his fastball in one stint each against USC and Utah. Combined, he threw 3 2/3 innings in those appearances, with five strikeouts, no hits allowed and no walks.
Initially in the mix as a starter this season, Paddon pitched out of the bullpen at both Hawaii and Loyola Marymount, and was called on in Oregon’s top-10 showdown with Cal State Fullerton as well in nonconference play.
“From there, you realize that you belong,” Paddon said. “You realize that, yeah, (opposing hitters) are good, but you’re just as good and that’s why you’re here.”
Freshmen like Paddon and electric right-hander Stephen Nogosek have the benefit of being mentored by veterans like Hunter, Reed and Cleavinger. Assistant coach Dean Stiles has helped bring them up to speed quickly as well.
Maturing quickly has allowed someone like Paddon to appreciate the benefits of a seemingly monotonous drill like balance work that pitchers do while position players are getting loose. To get a feel for their mechanics, pitchers spend a couple minutes each day going through their deliveries in slow motion, working on balance.
It’s a short drill, and one that easily could be taken for granted. But Stiles has ingrained in Oregon’s relievers the importance of making it productive.
“It’s just two minutes a day,” Paddon said. “But he did the math the other day, and that ends up being eight hours over a season. And eight hours of work turns into more and more perfection.”
Perfection like the 13 scoreless innings the UO bullpen has thrown to open Pac-12 play this season.
“We’ve really been pushing each other, whether it’s in the weight room, in practice or on the game mound,” Reed said Sunday. “We’ve all been pushing each other to be as good as we can possibly be, and I think we showed signs this week of actually getting to that point, to the standard we set for ourselves.”