Mitchell Tolman came to the plate in the bottom of the first inning in Oregon’s Sunday home win over Arizona with a runner on first base and two outs, but he merely flied out to left field to end the inning. At least, that’s what the post-game recap says.
On a day where Tolman would go on to record two hits and one RBI, this first at bat was actually his best. Recently, even Tolman’s outs have provided hope for a team that has gone through some early-season struggles at the plate.
In that first plate appearance, Tolman made three swings, all resulting in solid contact. First swing: a foul ball hit straight back to the screen (this type of foul ball usually means the hitter made a good swing, but just barely missed hitting the ball hard in play). Second swing: a rocket foul ball pulled down the right field line. Third swing: a well-struck opposite-field fly out. Tolman also took two pitches for balls, so even though this at bat resulted in an out, he made Arizona starter Cody Moffett earn it.
This is what coach George Horton has come to expect from his freshman third baseman, who has replaced incumbent starter Ryan Hambright. Tolman has a .360 batting average (BA), a .448 on-base percentage (OBP), and a .560 slugging percentage (SLG) on the season. Translation: Tolman’s been excellent at the plate, albeit in limited playing time.
Tolman hasn’t looked like some scrub playing over his head, either. He has reached base in every game in which he has recorded at least one plate appearance. He hasn’t gotten a hit in each game, but he’s at least managed to draw a walk or “take one for the team” by getting hit by a pitch.
(Excuse me while I put on my Moneyball hat…) The most valuable thing a hitter can do is get on base, and this is even more true for a Ducks team that has only one true home run threat – Ryon Healy – in its lineup. Oregon cannot rely on a few timely home runs each game to score runs. They need to get runners on base by any means possible and string hits together.
It’s no coincidence that Tolman’s playing time has increased during the Ducks’ recent hot streak (8-1 in their last nine games). It would be unfair to give all of the credit to Tolman, but he has provided a spark to a lineup that desperately needed one. If he can continue to get on base and hit well (hopefully with some power), the Ducks will not need to rely solely on their solid pitching to win games.
One last thing: This is my second Inside Zone Read article with FishDuck, and I am so excited and grateful to be here. We’ve got some very talented writers at this site, so I am certainly motivated to write well. Hopefully you enjoy my writing and feel free to provide your thoughts on my articles in the comments section. It’s just too bad Oregon doesn’t have any good teams to write about…