Photo by Al Sermeno - KLC Fotos

Bears, Horn Ready for Key Stanford Series

May 9, 2019

The Cal baseball team can do itself a world of good this weekend when it hosts Pac-12 co-leader Stanford in a three-game series.

The Bears (28-15, 13-8 Pac-12) are in fourth place in the conference standings, four games behind the Cardinal (35-8, 17-14) and Oregon State. Not only could Cal climb within one game of the visitors, but could also solidify its spot in the NCAA postseason tournament. The Bears are currently 34th in RPI, a good position to make the postseason field of 64. A series victory over the Cardinal would likely lock up the berth and improve the seeding.

“Any Pac-12 series is important Any game we play during the season is important for RPI purposes,” Cal head coach Mike Neu said. “This is a bigger opportunity, no question. We play a high RPI team. And we play them at home. It is an opportunity for us to get closer to where we want to be, which is in the postseason and have a chance to ultimately play and maybe win the College World Series.”

That is a tall order for any team, even one that has won 17 of its last 21 games, but the Bears have some weapons

In addition to their formidable offense which features sluggers Andrew Vaughn (.375, 13 HR, 42 RBI, Korey Lee (.325,12, 49) and table setters Cameron Eden (.338). Quentin Selma (.329), Grant Holman (.310) and Darren Baker (.302, 17-for-17 on stolen bases), they own one of the hotter pitchers in the country, junior right-hander Jared Horn.

Horn is 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA (second in Pac-12), with 41 strikeouts and 13 walks in 53⅓  innings. He had won the four stars successively, including a victory over No. 1 UCLA, before a no-decision in last Saturday’s win over Utah.

Horn’s relatively modest cumulative totals are attributable to his having missed the first month of the season. The Bears opened in a tournament in Arizona and Horn, who began to get sick on the bus ride to the Oakland Airport, was rushed to the emergency room when the team landed. The cause was appendicitis and the offending organ was promptly removed.

“Then came two weeks of doing nothing and two weeks of getting my cardiovascular strength back up, my core strength back up,” Horn said. “It wasn’t too much of a hassle getting back. I had a pretty strong foundation in the fall and the offseason. So I was able to come back pretty quickly.”

Still, that was a month wasted as far as baseball was concerned.

“He had a great fall and I think we were excited about him going into the season,” Neu said.”Obviously, it was off the table when he was injured.”

After the delay, Horn has been gangbusters.

“He’s a great competitor. His stuff is outstanding,” Neu said. “We know he can beat anybody when he’s on his game. And I don’t think this is a big surprise that it’s come together for him. It’s been huge for us to get some of those big wins, at Arizona, at UCLA. We’re excited to see him finish up strong. He has put us in a pretty good spot..”

Horn is throwing the second game this weekend because Neu’s strategic use of his pitching staff turns the normal collegiate procedure on its head. Erstwhile reliever Arman Sabouri will start as the “opener” Friday night, throw a couple of innings and be followed by a few true relievers. Neu said that depending on how many pitches he throws, Sabouri could come back and open Sunday as well.

Horn says he has no problem with how he is being used.”I think it has worked out well,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have. We have a lot of good arms we are trying to utilize effectively.  With Arman starting it out on Friday and setting the tone. And (Sam) Stoutenborough, coming in after him or (Rogello) Reyes.”

Horn traces his success to a slight attitude adjustment. He has become more aggressive.

“I think me personally I have worked on attacking hitters, not beating myself but making the hitters beat me,” he said. “Throwing the ball with more confidence, more strikes overall. That is kind of my main focus overall, just attacking the zone, attacking the hitters and making them beat me.”

And the hitters are having a hard time doing that. “He is a power pitcher,” Neu said. “He can run his fastball up to 94-95. He has been as high as 97, maybe 98. But he has been able to do it more in the low 90s range. With a power curveball and a good feel for a changeup I think he has developed into a true pitcher. He has a feel for getting hitters out. He has just done a great job, mentally, and understanding the game at this level.”

The highlight, of course, was the win over the Bruins in L.A. He went 8⅓ innings and struck out ten, both career highs. He was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week.

“Anytime you face the top team in the country naturally your game elevates a little bit,” Horn said. “It was real exciting just to go out there on that stage and perform really well as a team. We played good defense, scored some runs on offense. I am just happy I was able to keep my team in a position to steal that game from the number one one team in the nation.

“Since I’ve been here that is probably the highlight.”

A star quarterback as well as a pitcher at Vintage High School in Napa, Horn was a fan of Cal sports growing up.

“I have always been a Cal fan, I loved Aaron Rodgers,” he said. “I love Cal football. And it just 45 minutes from my house.”

But Horn also had other sports idols more in keeping with his current endeavors. “I am a huge Giants fan,” he said. “I grew up watching Matt Cain, I patterned my game after him. And I love Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner and his attitude on the mound.”

Horn decided early that baseball was the better sport for him, now and in the future. He figures to be drafted next month.

“I want to ride the baseball path as far as possible,” he said. “But right now my focus is on what we are doing here.”

NOTE: Through the Cal media relations department Horn requested that he not be asked to talk about the horrific 2017 auto accident in which four of his family members died. Bear Insider respected that request.

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