Cal Baseball starts season strong with a 3-1 long weekend
Cal Bears came within two outs of a 4-0 start
Even with some lineup and pitching questions entering the season (as I previewed last week), maybe this Cal Baseball team can return to the postseason and maybe even make another College World Series run.
Golden Bears had a very successful outing at the prestigious MLB4 Tournament, being the only team to go undefeated in three games. Even with some bullpen issues (granted, the other teams also are trying to figure that out), the Cal Bears showed plenty of fight in all of their games.
If you missed it, the entire Cal vs. Houston game (Cal’s season opener) is on the MLB website (link to the video): https://www.mlb.com/video/cal-vs-houston-4203
Cal 4, Houston 2 (10)
Cal junior ace Josh White (more on him below) had a fantastic season debut, efficiently striking out a career-high 10 in just 5.1 scoreless innings. Houston’s opening day starter Medrano was able to match that until he gave an RBI double to Cal catcher Cole Elvis in the 7th.
Cal could not hold on to the lead in the bottom of the 8th with two out. A defensive miscued allowed the go-ahead runner to reach. A bad throw by the Cal pitcher on a comebacker put the Bears in a 2-1 hole.
Houston’s lead would be short-lived, however. Cal freshman DH Caleb Lomavita had a great collegiate debut, including a mammoth game-tying homer to lead off the 9th.
Cal outfielder star Dylan Beavers was intentionally walked in the top of the 10th with a runner in scoring position. The Bears were able to make the Houston Cougars pay by following that up with an RBI single from first-baseman Nathan Martorella. Lomavita brought Beavers home with a sacrifice fly.
Henrik Reinertsen, a graduate transfer from Pacific, pitched the last two innings in what turned out to be a very busy weekend. Featuring a variety of off-speed pitches, he closed Cal’s first win of the season with a strikeout.
Cal 7, No.17 TCU 6
As head coach Mike Neu hinted at the Bay Area press conference, Steven Zobac and Joseph King have been transitioned from bullpen guys to weekend starters. Zobac, who played both the outfield AND served as the Cal closer last year, did not hit this first weekend. He started Cal’s second game of the season.
Zobac had some bad BABIP (batting average, ball in play) luck and spotted the TCU Horned Frogs with two runs each in their first two innings.
After being held hitless in the first game, Dylan Beavers went 2 for 3 with two walks. One of those hits is Beavers’ first long ball of the season.
Showing the very promising sign of fight even while behind, Cal had a big 8th inning in stringing together five hits around two walks. The last RBI single came from the lefthanded hitting Beavers, going the other way against a TCU lefty.
As the home team for this game, Cal just needed to close out Top 9 for the win. Chris Stamos, who made the bad throw yesterday, got the first crack to close this game out. Stamos and Aaron Roberts both struggled. They allowed TCU to score one run while having the bases loaded with just one out.
Reinertsen issued a walk to tie the game but managed to hold TCU from scoring more. Reinertsen moved to 2-0 on the season when Cal managed to get the winning run home via a wild pitch.
Freshman Rodney Green Junior ripped a triple and then used his speed to score the game-winning run.
Cole Elvis (more on him below) went 3 for 5 in this game, including driving in Cal’s first run of the game. After Zobac went 4 innings, freshman lefty Ian May followed with 4 innings of scoreless work himself.
This win was Mike Neu’s 100th as the Cal head coach.
Cal 6, San Diego State 2
Joseph King became the first Cal Bear not named Reinertsen to get a win this season. King went 5.2 IP despite giving up a two-run homer in the first and a solo homer to his last batter.
The Bears can also play the long ball game. Cole Elvis capped his great weekend in Scottsdale with a three-run bomb. Elvis’s homer broke a 2-2 tie.
Connor Sullivan and Mitchell Scott (who got the save) were solid out of the pen on Sunday to provide 3.1 scoreless innings against the Aztecs.
The Golden Bears have got to feel good to about the MLB4 Tournament Sweep to open the season.
Being the only team to go undefeated, two Cal Bears made the MLB article on the top-5 performers: the battery combination of Cole Elvis and Josh White.
Cal C Cole Elvis -- 7-for-13 with one homer, two doubles, one walk and five RBIs
Elvis left the ballpark on Sunday afternoon, blasting a go-ahead three-run home run in the fifth inning to lift Cal to a 6-3 win over San Diego State in the final game of the weekend. The Golden Bears' senior catcher connected on a 2-0 curveball from Aztecs right-hander Ricky Tibbett, sending it a Statcast-projected 403 feet over the left-field wall.
Cal RHP Josh White -- 5 1/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts
White recorded the most strikeouts of any pitcher at the MLB4 Tournament, reaching double digits in his strong outing during Cal's 4-2, 10-inning win over Houston on Friday afternoon. The junior right-hander threw 76 pitches (51 strikes) and allowed only three hits and two walks.
Dylan Beavers and Josh White are the two Cal stars, named to the preseason Golden Spikes watchlist.
Josh White looked very good in this debut. He sat at 92 to 96 mph according to the TV game radar (the article above claimed that Statcast clocked the fastest pitch at 94.7 mph) and also featured two different kinds of breaking balls. The MLB Network broadcast said that White found the extra velocity between freshman and sophomore year after working with former Cal Bear and MLB veteran Tyson Ross. The extra velocity allowed White to jump from the bullpen at the start of 2021 to be the Friday ace by the end of last season. His draft stock rose even more after the summer on the USA Collegiate Team.
While control does appear to be a slight issue, White looked very impressive. Check out the highlight of his season debut in the embedded tweet below.
Cal 8, Gonzaga 9
Staying in Arizona for another game, Cal played a neutral site game against Gonzaga from Mesa on President’s day.
Dylan Beavers led a strong outing from the Cal offense with two homers.
Beavers’ second homer of the game, 3rd already in four games for the Cal slugger who hit 18 to lead the Pac last year, pulled the Bears within one run in the bottom of the 9th.
Alas, the Cal Bears could not fully erase a 3-run deficit and suffered their first loss of 2022.
Frustratingly, Cal had a 6-3 lead going into the top of the 9th. A day after a one-inning save, Mitchell Scott had a perfect 8th but left after giving up a walk and a double in the 9th. Pitching in his 3rd game in 4 days, Reinertsen just did not have it. Reinertsen (2-1) gave up the lead and then a three-run homer to Gonzaga’s Machtolf.
It is good to remember that at the start of last season, we had no idea that Dylan Beavers and Josh White were going to have breakout seasons and become legit MLB Draft prospects. Mike Neu talked in the MLB Network broadcast about how he tried to get advice everywhere, from Cal alum Bob Melvin to Cal parent Dusty Baker to even Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash who Neu struck out to win the 1999 College World Series with Miami. Cal Baseball clearly has a good system in molding their young players.
Sophomore Jag Burden might be the next breakout guy, earning the leadoff role to start the season. True freshmen DH Caleb Lomavita and 3B Carson Crawford (particularly defensively) also looked good in their first weekend. Although they started all season last year, SS Keshawn Ogan and 1B Nathan Martorella both have room to grow as well.
Clearly, Cal got to figure out who they can rely on out of the pen, having promoted their top pen guys last year to the rotation. A glance at the Cal Baseball roster shows no shortage of candidates. One would expect Chris Stamos, who got thrust into two high-leverage situations and failed, to get better. One might also excuse the bad Monday outing from Mitchell Scott and Henrik Reinertsen to fatigue as both were working on their 3rd game in four days.
While the Bears could have easily been 4-0 right now rather than 3-1, they also could have rather easily been 1-3 had a few balls did not go their way. One would think that having these neutral site wins over solid opponents already put the Cal Bears in a better place RPI-wise than last year (when teams also did not travel too far for out-of-conference games).
Cal will host Illinois-Chicago for three games this weekend before the Sac State on Tuesday. Then, the Bears will really test themselves when they visit Tallahassee to take on No.10 Florida State.
I can remember the last Cal baseball game I attended at Long Beach State about two years ago. Really looking forward to the USC series next month.
Very impressive weekend! So many new names and yet they just grind. I trust Neu as the pitching guru will get the pen sorted out!