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Cal Baseball Team Heads into League Play

March 24, 2021
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The Cal baseball team wobbled a bit at the start of its season, but the Bears (12-7) have steadied themselves and are on something of a roll as they begin conference play at Utah this weekend.

They opened the season minus their best pitcher, Grant Holman, who has bicep tendinitis, and lost three of their first four games. They are 11-4 since then, have won the last four series and Holman is set to make his 2021 debut as the starter in the series opener Friday night. .

“We definitely started a little slow and I think we are now playing a lot better,” head coach Mike Neu said in a phone interview. “Offensively we have gotten into a little bit of a rhythm the last couple of weeks. I definitely like the way the guys are playing. We are a lot more competitive now. 

“Also, we’ve been pretty good on the mound and that’s kind of kept us in a lot of games.”

Sophomore centerfielder Dylan Beavers leads the team in batting with a .348 batting average and is tied for first in the conference with seven home runs. He was conference Player of the Week last week.

“He only had 20 or so at-bats last year before the season was shut down because of covid,” Neu said. “He didn’t start for us right away. He was a freshman. And then he started getting some opportunities but the season ended. 

Robert Edwards/KLC fotos
Beavers at bat

“We knew he had a chance last year to be a good player from what we saw. … He had a good offseason, he worked hard in the weight room. He’s a competitive guy, He’s a pitcher also, he was a two-way guy for us last year. But then we got to see him a little bit more, we thought we’d just use him full-time in center field.”

Second baseman Darren Baker, son of the major league manager Dusty, is also having a fine season. The junior is batting .338 with a .416 on-base percentage. “Baker’s been great,” Neu said. “He plays lockdown defense at second base. He’s been a really good leadoff hitter, gotten on base a lot. He is kind of our spark plug to get our offense going.”

The pitching from top to bottom has been good. The staff ERA is 3.46 and the relief pitchers’ number is 2.99 in 102.1 innings pitched. Opposing batters are hitting .216 against the 14 Bears who have appeared in relief for Cal.

“Most of our staff has been really solid,” Neu said. “We’ve gotten some great outings from Josh White, Sean Sullivan, Paul Pasqualotto, who’s a freshman. And I’m probably missing a bunch of guys.”

Besides Holman, the Bears will soon add Joseph King who has pitched all of one inning this year before he was injured. A freshman All-American in 2020, King had a 1.59 ERA in seven appearances and struck out 17 in 11.1 innings.

“We still are not quite fully healthy,” Neu said. “I think once we get there, we really like our staff. We’ve got some depth and competitive guys who like being out there in those big spots. That’s what we like to see.”

Like every other Cal team, the baseball crew has been performing with no spectators in the stands. “At first it was really weird,” Neu said. “You look behind you and there’s nobody there. It feels like you are playing kind of scrimmage game. But now that we’re into it we’re used to it, And we understand whether there are people here or not, it’s an important game. We’ve done a good job of understanding no matter what the situation is with the fans, we’re just going to go play.” 

Matthew Jacob Schumacher
Pasqualotto fires a strike

Four of the Bears’ 12 victories have come on their final at-bat at home, so-called “walk-off” wins.

“Obviously, you’ve got some guys who have really stepped up in those big moments,” Neu said. “Part of having a good team is that you’ve got to learn how to win some close games, you’ve got to have guys who are prepared for those big spots. That shows we are growing as a team. 

“I don’t know if last year we win some of those games. We maybe don’t have the experience to be able to do it. But these guys are growing each and every day. Winning those walk-off games; it’s big moments right there and a lot of guys have done the job in those spots.

“We have a really good team dynamic right now.

Notes 

  • Utah is 4-11, and 1-2 in conference play.
  • The game times (PDT) are 4 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday. All the games are on Pac-12 Networks.
  • Sullivan (2-1) will start Saturday for the Bears followed by Pasqualotto (2-2) on Sunday.
  • Cal is 21-6 all-time against Utah and 5-1 under Neu. 
  • Holman is also a pretty good hitter and has played the field and been a DH for the Bears. Neu said for the present he would be strictly a pitcher.
  • The Bears are making their first true road trip of the season. All six road games played so far have been parts of split-series weekends.
  • Utah and Washington are the only teams in the conference with a losing record. Most of the marks are similar to Cal’s. Having not played any of the conference teams since 2019, Neu declined to name a title favorite. 

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