The Oregon Ducks open up their college baseball season on Friday, as they travel to Honolulu for what has become their annual opening set with Hawaii. In anticipation of the opening of the season, ATQ takes a look at the roster. Today, we will look at the pitchers. Tomorrow, the hitters.
The image of a lazy fly ball plopping into left field at PK Park and sending Kent State to the College World Series over the Oregon Ducks is an image that is no doubt still embedded in the minds of Oregon baseball fans. We have seen a steady ascent since the resurrection of this program and, with the vast majority of the roster coming back this season, a trip to Omaha must undoubtedly be the goal for coach George Horton and crew.
A look at the pitching staff reveals the loss of last year's ace, righty Alex Keudell, who was the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year last season. Keudell's 11 wins and 2.38 ERA from last season are no doubt a loss, but Oregon is actually in in a pretty good position to not only overcome that, but potentially have a better pitching staff this season than last. Considering this was one of the best pitching staffs in the country last season, that's a big statement.
The Starting Rotation:
If you remember last season, a rash of preseason pitching injuries left the Ducks wondering whether or not they would have enough starters to get through a season. This year, Oregon gets multiple pitchers back who missed the entire season last year, while also returning every significant pitcher with the exception of Keudell and relievers Joey Housey and Billy Flamion.
The biggest return is that of lefthander Christian Jones. Jones was projected to be the No. 1 starter last season, but had to endure Tommy John surgery after an elbow injury and missed the campaign. Jones has a fastball in the upper 80s with good movement, and also throws a decent change and a good slider that's rough on lefties. He was 7-2 with a 3.24 ERA two seasons ago for Oregon, and gives them a lefthanded weekend starter that they didn't have all of last season.
The other sure thing in the rotation is sophomore Jake Reed. Reed was impressive last season, going 8-4 in 17 starts in his freshman campaign with a 2.92 ERA, and could develop into the staff ace this season. He can work in the low 90s with his fastball, and adds a change and a big curve as his breaking pitch. He proved his mettle as a youngster last season, and only looks to improve.
The final weekend rotation spot will be an interesting competition, and there is no shortage of candidates to fill the spot. Righty Jeff Gold held that spot for conference play last season, and was 8-4 with a 3.66 ERA last season. Having been through that fire, he has to be considered the favorite to nail down that spot again this season. But Brando Tessar and Jordan Spencer both experienced success in limited starting duty last season, highly touted redshirt freshmen Sam Johnson and Cole Wiper are back after missing last season with Tommy John, and freshman lefty Cole Irvin is said to be impressing and could get a crack. The Ducks should not only have a formidable weekend staff, but enough depth to start weekend quality starters during weekday contests. Running up a gaudy record in those contests is key to hosting another regional.
Jimmie Sherfy, he who struck out 93 batters in 61 innings last season, is back and should again be lights out at the end of the bullpen. Tommy Thorpe, the lefty who sported a 2.11 ERA out of the bullpen last season also returns. Both of those guys can go almost every day and be effective, providing a solid foundation for the relief corps. This team will miss Housey, who was a very good reliever last season, but the Ducks have so much starting depth that a few of those guys will have to end up in the bullpen to get work in. Senior David Wylie, who struggled in nine appearance last season, is back for another go, and Darrell Hunter, Oregon's first baseball recruit who has missed the last several seasons with injuries, is back to give it one more go. Between those two and the guys who don't make the starting rotation, Oregon needs to find two effective relievers to pair with Thorpe and Sherfy.
With the core of what the Ducks have coming back, this should again be one of the top pitching staffs in college baseball. The rotation is crazy deep, and there is enough talent to finish off a bullpen that already has its two most important pieces figured out. Don't expect opponents to put up a lot of crooked numbers at PK Park this season.