Oregon’s starting pitching of late has been tepid at best, and tonight was no exception, but once again the Ducks bullpen and bats pulled the game away for their tenth straight victory over the Utes.
Tonight’s game featured starters RJ Gordon for the Ducks vs. Matthew Sox for the Utes. After putting away the top of Utah’s order to begin the game, there was some hope that perhaps Oregon fans could see a starting pitcher last more than three innings, but that notion was dashed after the 1-2-3 top of the first. The Ducks mustered a couple of hits in the bottom of the first, but left runners on base after their hitting was shut down by Sox.
RJ Gordon’s pitching immediately left him after the first inning, and he gave up a home run on the first swing of the second inning. Gordon battled back and after giving up a single, he picked up a couple of fly-outs. Gordon could not close the inning before giving up an RBI double and single, and the Utes were up 3-0. Josh Kasevich led off the bottom of the third with a single to right field, and was followed up by an Anthony Hall double that put Kasevich on third base with no outs. Sam Novitske grounded out to the shortstop, but it brought Kasevich home and Hall to third base. Jack Scanlon then sent a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Hall. With two outs, Sox was able to take care of the rest of the inning, but Oregon’s offensive roll was on - and just starting.
In the top of the third, Gordon walked the first batter and gave up a single, but was able to get a couple of strikeouts and a fly out off some aggressive fastballs down the pipe, and Utah ended the top with two runners stranded. The bottom of the inning saw Tanner Smith get hit by a pitch, and then Brennan Milone crushed the first of the three 2-RBI homers that the Ducks put over the wall tonight. The Ducks stranded two more runners before Sox was able to end the inning and were up 4-3 going into the fourth.
RJ Gordon’s attempt to be the first Duck starter to pitch more than three innings of late before coming out, while technically true, wasn’t really the case. His control completely left him after he was able to get Utah’s first batter to ground out, and you could see it in his body language. He walked the next three batters, leaving Oregon defending with the bases loaded and one out. Dylan Sabia came in to relieve Gordon and saved the inning, getting outs from the next two hitters and leaving Utah with nothing to show for loading the bases. The Ducks then ticked off another run in the bottom of the fourth when Tanner Smith singled to second base, followed by a Colby Shade walk. Brennan Milone brought Smith home with an RBI single out left, and the Ducks ended the inning up 5-3.
Sabia got Oregon out of a pinch in the fourth, but in the fifth he walked a Ute before giving up an RBI single that allowed Utah to close to one run down, 5-4. Logan Mercado was brought in to relieve Sabia, and he and the rest of the Oregon bullpen (Jacob Hughes and Scott Ellis) completely shut down Utah, allowing no hits for the rest of the game.
And then, in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Oregon bats came to life and put this game away for good, not wasting that stellar relief pitching. Josh Kasevich walked and Anthony Hall homered to bring both of them home. Then Jack Scanlon was hit by a pitch and Gavin Grant homered to cap the third 2-RBI homer of the game. But the Ducks weren’t quite done; Shade doubled and Milone walked, allowing Jacob Walsh to send an RBI single to right field, and the rout was on with Oregon up 10-4.
The Ducks would add their only other run in the sixth, and they could have done a lot more damage. They had the bases loaded when Shade was walked to bring in run number 11, but stranded 3 on base to end the sixth. The seventh and eighth inning were quiet, as Utah retired the Duck batters in order.
The Ducks prevailed 11-4, but the margin could have been greater, because Oregon left ten runners on base this game. They won’t want to see those kinds of numbers left on base when they are up against better teams later in the season.
Logan Mercado (1-0) earned the win for Oregon, and Matthew Sox (2-1) picked up the loss for Utah. Oregon finished the game with 14 hits and 11 runs off 35 at-bats and 0 errors.
The Ducks finished this game handily; but again, mediocre starting pitching was overshadowed and saved by stellar offense and outstanding relief. At this point of the season it appears that starting pitching is potentially the Oregon Achilles Heel, and they need to fix that issue if they want to be successful against better Pac-12 teams and have College World Series aspirations.