Let’s look on the bright side of things here: in game two against #2 Vanderbilt, Oregon’s bats weren’t connecting yet again, but the offense was considerably more watchable in their 4-2 loss to the Commodores. It was a beautiful day at PK Park on Saturday afternoon, and the sunshine brought a good crowd out to see if Oregon (10-5) could muster out a few runs against the dominant Vanderbilt (15-1) pitching staff.
To put it simply, the Oregon offense didn’t really stand a chance, but they sure made it interesting. Vanderbilt starter Tyler Beede walked six batters in his 6.2 innings pitched, giving the Ducks plenty of opportunities to come up with some runs throughout the game, but Oregon looked simply clueless in clutch situations. The Ducks went 2-11 with runners in scoring position, stranded twelve men total with eight in scoring position, and converted only one of those hits into an RBI.
The process of Oregon’s at bats with runners on base were almost totally scripted for the Vanderbilt pitchers: square to bunt until strike two, then wait for the pitcher to throw ball four. As a result of the extremely conservative strategy, Oregon struck out to end six of the nine innings played. Without the ball in play, there weren’t any real opportunities for Oregon to score. Perhaps even more complexing was the way that Oregon’s batters would work themselves into a good hitter count, then either surrender the count to poor contact, or watch hittable fastballs fall in for strikes to lose the hitter’s advantage. Unlike Friday’s truly hopeless performance, Saturday’s game was very interesting, and kept fans on the edge of their seats, but it really felt as if the offense really didn’t even really challenge the Commodores.
On the other side of the stat sheet, Tommy Thorpe was absolutely brilliant in his start. In 6.0 innings pitched, the lefty allowed just four hits, and two runs, genuinely keeping the Ducks in the game for the entire span of his outing. After Thorpe left, the bullpen really got a taste of a good offense as Jordan Spencer and Brando Tessar each allowed a run in their short outings from the pen, but Garrett Cleavinger and Jimmie Sherfy were very effective in their appearances as well.
It seems that we have reached the ceiling of the extreme small ball tactics. Without the threat of aggressive hitters, the better pitching staffs will continue to mow down the Oregon batters. While 4-2 games are inevitable with two good pitchers facing off, the Ducks still need to step up their offensive output if they’re going to prevail against elite pitching. As we saw last weekend against a good Fullerton team, the Ducks were able to jump all over the Titan’s third starter. It will be considerably tougher this weekend as the Commodores will throw yet another excellent lefty at the Ducks. This time, Phillip Pfeifer (2-0, 0.45 ERA) will get the start for Oregon opposite Cole Irvin (3-0, 2.05 ERA) who is in for a real challenge Sunday afternoon.