Midweek games usually showcase extended relief outings, with mediocre pitching and uninspired offense – unless you have a pitching staff like Oregon’s. The #6 Ducks were pressed to find a fourth starter for their Tuesday night matchup with Portland at PK Park, especially since typical fourth-starter Jeff Gold’s last appearance ended when a comebacker drilled him in the ankle.
Head Coach George Horton has many weapons at his disposal in the bullpen, perhaps none bigger than left-hander Christian Jones. Jones, who is just over a year removed from major surgery, came into the game with 6 innings pitched on the season, and a perfect 0.00 ERA.
In his first start of the season, limited by predetermined pitch count and inning restrictions, Jones was brilliant. He allowed just two hits, but kept his scoreless stat line clean, while striking out five more batters (season total now at nine). The way he was recording his outs was even more impressive. The lefty’s fastball-slider combination kept Portland batters off balance throughout the early innings, and forced the Pilots to swing and miss on a third of all of Jones’ called strike. Not only was Jones hitting his spots, he was fooling the Pilots thoroughly in his solid outing.
Unfortunately, Jones didn’t meet the minimum innings requirement for a win, as Jeff Gold would take over in the fourth inning. If it was even possible, Gold had an even more dominant pitching performance. He struck out eight batters in four scoreless innings of relief, and allowed just one dribbling single.
Oregon’s offense would start hot. An RBI single from Ryon Healy (7th of the season) pushed a run across in the bottom of the first, giving Oregon a quick 1-0 lead. The Ducks would strike again after Scott Heineman would get hit by a pitch, then take advantage of a wild pitch to move all the way up to third. Brett Thomas executed nicely,
and brought the runner home with an RBI (6th of the season) sacrifice fly. In the fifth, Oregon scored another run after J.J. Altobelli started yet another rally, earning a walk to open the inning. Payne moved Altobelli to 3rd with a single to left, and Heineman brought him home with a sacrifice fly (5th RBI of the season).
Following the manufactured run in the fifth, Oregon’s bats suddenly became cold. The Ducks went down in order in the sixth and seventh, and got completely stifled in the eighth. While three runs should be enough to handle a team like Portland on a regular basis, the Ducks will need to start some bigger multi-run innings to prevail in the Pac-12 consistently.
Gold’s outing earned him his first win of the season, bringing him to 1-0. Jimmie Sherfy made things interesting and allowed the tying run to second base in the ninth with the score at 3-1, but then slammed the door to end the game and earn his third save of the season.
When it was all said and done, Oregon’s pitching staff combined for fifteen strikeouts on the day. While these gaudy numbers are impressive, Portland’s true caliber is far below the level of Oregon’s, and should most likely be taken with a grain of sand. We’ll really know just how good Oregon is when they travel to Cal State Fullerton this weekend to take on the nationally ranked Titans.