by Rob Moseley
Cole Irvin's encore to a record-setting freshman campaign will be delayed a year, but the beat goes on for Oregon baseball.
The Ducks found out last month that Irvin had an injury that will require Tommy John surgery. The procedure will be conducted Monday, Feb. 10, and was officially announced by the athletic department this week.
The news broke less than two weeks out from Oregon's opener, Feb. 14 at Hawaii. But UO coach George Horton is confident the Ducks will provide answers to any questions about their starting rotation in the wake of Irvin's injury.
"You never want to hear that, and I had a different, sick feeling in my stomach when that came to fruition — mostly for Cole," Horton said. "That'll weaken us a little bit, but it's an area of our ballclub where we think we have pretty good depth. I guess, in essence, I feel worse for the Irvins than I do for the 2014 Ducks."
Irvin set a UO record with 12 wins as a freshman, earning honorable mention all-Pac-12 status. Overall he was 12-3 with a 2.48 ERA, pitching 116 innings and make 16 starts, each top-five all-time at Oregon.
Irvin was expected to anchor the 2014 staff along with returning Friday starter Tommy Thorpe. In the wake of Irvin's injury, Horton said, left-hander Jordan Spencer and righty Jeff Gold could join Thorpe and talented freshman Matt Krook in the rotation for the four-game series at Hawaii.
Thorpe led Oregon with a 2.16 ERA last season in his transition from short relief work, and Krook was a high school all-American who enrolled at Oregon despite being drafted 35th overall by the Miami Marlins last year. Gold has made 19 career starts over the last three years, while Spencer has made eight spot starts in 24 appearances the last two years.
Spencer, who is best known for throwing a no-hitter against Portland in 2012, previously relied primarily on a fastball that featured late life. But he has improved his off-speed pitches over the past year, and worked with UO assistant Dean Stiles to improve his pitching motion.
"With the improvement of his change and his breaking ball, he's more of a complete pitcher," Horton said. "He used to be a guy that, whatever you got from him, it was a little bit of a pleasant surprise. Now the expectation level has gone up, to where we expect Jordan to be good."
Stiles' work to develop guys like Spencer, and the ability of assistants Mark Wasikowski and Jay Uhlman to bring in recruits like Krook, gives Horton confidence the Ducks can endure the loss of Irvin to injury.
One move the staff isn't currently looking to make is a shakeup of the projected late-inning tandem, lefty Garrett Cleavinger and new closer Jake Reed. A starter last season, Reed isn't currently being considered for a move back to the rotation.
"Regardless of who you're playing, it typically is a one- or two-run game," Horton said. "And whoever does the best job defensively in the seventh, eighth and ninth, and offensively in the seventh, eighth and ninth, usually wins more games in our ballpark."
Thus does Horton believe that, despite Irvin's injury, the Ducks still have a chance to be contenders on the strength of their rotation and bullpen in 2014.
"If those things maintain themselves through the season, unless we just fall flat on our faces offensively, I like our chances of having a pretty good year," Horton said.