I've continued to mention the potential of the Oregon Ducks (18-16) young crop of talent, and how this is a team built to receive lofty preseason expectations in a year or two. For the 1,308 in attendance on Monday, they were privy to a glimpse of what the Oregon coaching staff believes will ensure future success of the club.
Led by a starting lineup that included only one upper classman, the Oregon bats found some early life facing a University of San Francisco (17-20) pitcher, who was starting for only the second time this year and is usually reserved for the closer roll.
Freshman Stefan Sabol drove in his first of two RBI's on the day with a double off the wall in left field. It would prove to be all the Ducks needed as they would go on to defeat the Dons 4-0 in the first Monday afternoon game at PK Park.
Even with the pleading of pitcher Scott McGough, who had said he wanted the nod against the Dons, head coach George Horton decided to give sophomore Christian Jones his first start on the mound since his March 23 start against Witchita State. Jones made an appearance during the Ducks 9-2 loss against USC on Saturday--he pitched two-thirds of an inning, allowing two walks and striking out two.
With the rust shaken, Jones dazzled, and had the USF hitters flailing at pitches throughout the day.
This was the first time I've seen Jones pitch live, but if this is any indication of what the sophomore is capable of, people could be comparing him to Tyler Anderson when his career at Oregon is over. Jones is just a hair short of Anderson in many of--what I call--the "wow" categories. Jones is six-foot two-inches tall and weighs 205 pounds. Anderson stands at six-foot four-inches tall and 215 pounds. Jones' fastball hovers around 90 mph, while Anderson is usually good for three or four mph faster than that.
However, Jones has the guts--and confidence--to throw any pitch at any time. On this day, it was anyone's guess what the pitch of choice would be to begin an at-bat. Jones would work between his fastball, change-up--the pitch he said was working best for him today--and breaking-ball, and threw all three with accuracy.
When talking about throwing his off-speed pitches for the first pitch of an at-bat, Jones said, "It establishes to them that I'll throw it whenever I want to. Essentially, I'll throw it in any count. That means they can't be looking for a certain pitch, because then I'll comeback with something different.
"Its good when it gets later into the game when they've faced me for like the third time... then they don't, necessarily, know what's coming if they've seen three different pitches so far."
Jones would routinely throw his off-speed in fastball counts--contributing to his seven strikeouts in six innings of work. Jones only allowed four hits and didn't issue a walk.
At the plate, the young bats forced the USF starter, Jonathan Abramson--my high school teammate--out after only two and one-third of an inning.
Sabol--proving that his early season hand injury is a thing of the past--went two-for-four with two RBI's and a stolen base.
"He looks like a man to me," Horton said with a proud laugh after the game. "Stefan Sabol isn't worried about hitting the ball to right-center. He goes up there with a stick in his hand-he's got a bullet-and he's letting it fly. He really looks good in the batters box, to me, right now."
Pulfer said after the game that the team doesn't have the postseason on their radar. The focus still remains on winning games--obviously--but it would seem the Ducks have an excuse to be more flexible with the lineup. This would mean more games--even some against Pac-10 opponents--with the young guns scattered throughout the order. Horton should want to get any deer-in-the-headlights mindset out of the way this year, and this way the young players will have a been there, done that attitude when the 2012 season begins.
"Hopefully they can turn it around for us, because we do have a lot of young guys that play and we're going to need them to step up," Pulfer said. "I think coache (Horton's) frustration is sometimes that they fall into the trap of, ‘oh, I'm a freshman.' Were trying to get that mindset out of them. There not freshman anymore. The freshman left in the fall. It's time to grow up, and I think some of them are doing that and some of them are still working on it. I think if we can get them hot, it'll be a dangerous lineup."
Duck fans have their fingers crossed for that very thing to evolve.
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