After Tuesday night’s home opener against Portland, Oregon head coach George Horton indicated that the coaching staff would reconsider their Sunday starter for this weekend’s series against Cal State Fullerton. On Wednesday afternoon, Horton said “the coin landed” and that they would go with left-hander Porter Clayton.
“It’s not a case of Jordan Spencer going to the end of the bench or the bottom of the totem pole,” Horton said Wednesday. “We think that Porter’s made a statement for himself and that we might improve ourselves in that third spot with Porter.”
Horton admitted that coming into the season there was a “fine line” in the battle for the Sunday starter role and that there hadn’t been a clear separation between Spencer and a group of pitchers that included Clayton and right-hander Jeff Gold.
Clayton’s dominance out of the bullpen paired with Spencer’s struggles through his first two starts has tipped the scale toward Clayton for the time being. Horton said that the decision to go with Clayton rather than Gold was a tough one and suggested that it was based on Clayton having higher upside rather than a case of Gold not pitching well enough.
Prior to this season, Clayton had last pitched for the Ducks in 2011 and subsequently took two years off to serve his Latter-day Saints mission. Pitching coach Dean Stiles noted that upon Clayton’s return, they worked to tweak his mechanics in order to give him more extension during his delivery. Stiles feels this improved the command of Clayton’s curveball, which he has been able to throw more often for strikes early in the count.
“He came back with the right attitude and he’s worked his tail off to get back into this program,” catcher Shaun Chase said. “It was pretty awesome to watch him all fall. He was always the first one here and last one to leave.”
This season, Clayton has effectively deployed a four-pitch mix that features a fastball Horton says can touch 92 miles per hour, a curveball, a changeup and a slider. After recording two perfect innings on Tuesday, Clayton has retired all 14 batters he’s faced this season.
Spencer, however, struggled with his command out of the gate and Stiles noted that his curveball hasn’t been as sharp as it had been during the preseason. In two starts, Spencer totaled just 7.2 innings, over which he gave up five runs on 11 hits and five walks.
Stiles said that going forward, he expects Spencer to pitch out of the bullpen in a role similar to what Clayton had previously been performing. He’ll likely have the opportunity to come out of the bullpen multiple times during a weekend series, sometimes as a lefty specialist.
“I guess the danger in the quick hook on (Jordan) is the next guy that gets the ball is like, ‘Oh man, I better go out and be perfect,’” Horton said. “I hope they don’t fall into that trap. But it’s more of a case of the excellent guys that we have than a case of Jordan not doing well at all.”
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