Oregon baseball: Ducks hope to shut down Ohio State offense for second straight season

Oregon right-handed pitcher Jeff Gold (44) delivers to Seattle's Brian Olson (25) during the top of the fourth inning. The Oregon Ducks play the Seattle University Redhawks in Game One of a doubleheader at PK Park in Eugene, Ore., on Mar. 4, 2014. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Oregon right-handed pitcher Jeff Gold (44) delivers to Seattle's Brian Olson (25) during the top of the fourth inning. The Oregon Ducks play the Seattle University Redhawks in Game One of a doubleheader at PK Park in Eugene, Ore., on Mar. 4, 2014. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Posted by Victor Flores on Friday, Mar. 7 at 9:00 am.

Head Oregon baseball coach George Horton hadn’t watched film on Ohio State (7-3) before Wednesday’s practice, but he still had plenty to say about this weekend’s opponent. They’re well-coached, he said, they have a “brand new” starting pitching staff and their bullpen is deep, especially with closer Trace Dempsey. Dempsey garnered two third-team All-America honors last season and was named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year watch list before this season.

So, Horton and the Ducks naturally want to avoid Dempsey, and Oregon can look to last season for the key to keep him on the bench.

“We never even saw their All-American stopper because of the type of games,” Horton told reporters on Wednesday. “They never had a lead.”

While the Ducks (10-3), struggled to score runs against Ohio State last May, they hardly needed any. Oregon won the first game 3-1 in 11 innings, and that was the only run its pitching staff would allow all series. Cole Irvin, who’s out for the season, and Jake Reed (Oregon’s current closer) both shut down the Buckeyes bats in the series’ final two games, and the Ducks hope the pitching staff can continue to put up zeroes this weekend.

But Oregon hasn’t run out three reliable weekend starters this season. Jordan Spencer and Porter Clayton have both earned Sunday starts (two for Spencer, one for Clayton this past Sunday), but neither has done enough to instill faith in their head coach. That’s why Horton will turn to Jeff Gold this Sunday.

“I’d rather get beat in the strike zone than out of the strike zone,” Horton said, “and Jeff’s going to be in the strike zone.”

Gold experienced some cramping in his back on Tuesday and tweaked it during the game. In the sixth inning, Gold said he had trouble breathing and had to be pulled early. This caused Horton to describe the Sunday spot as TBA on Wednesday, but the latest release from the athletic department lists Gold as the starter for the third and final weekend game.

“If I’m getting the opportunity to go out there this Sunday, I’m excited about it,” Gold said.

When asked if he felt any pressure pitching in Oregon’s insecure Sunday spot, Gold adamantly denied it and quoted former Oregon head football coach Chip Kelly.

“‘Pressure’s what you feel when you don’t know what you’re doing,’” Gold said. “‘We know what we’re doing, so there’s no pressure.’ I know how to pitch, I know how to throw strikes, so I’m really not worried about it.”

Friday starter Tommy Thorpe was roughed up over the weekend, albeit to a great team in Cal State Fullerton. Thorpe only gave up two earned runs in his first two starts but got lit up for seven (six earned) against the Titans. Horton doesn’t plan to move Thorpe out of his current role, but Thorpe has to prove to Horton he’s good enough to pitch in that spot.

“We need to get him back on track because, for the Friday guy to go out there and get roughed up, that means you’re into your bullpen,” Horton said.

The Ducks engaged in pitching duels each game against Ohio State last season, and even though the Buckeyes lost their top three pitchers (Jaron Long, Brian King, and Brad Goldberg), they’ve pitched well so far in 2014. So, the Ducks will need to pitch especially well in order to win this series, and the spotlight will be hotly focused on Thorpe Friday night.

“He (Thorpe) has got to get more competitive,” Horton said. “Is it in there? Yeah. Have we seen it in the past? Yeah, but this is 2014. It’s time for him to show up.”

Noteworthy

- One of Reed’s best starts last season came against Ohio State, when he gave up three hits, three walks and struck out four in seven scoreless innings, leading the Ducks to a 1-0 win and a series sweep. But Reed won’t be starting this weekend, and he doesn’t see many scenarios where he would get a starting nod, even with the instability of the Sunday rotation spot. “We have so many arms where I think that they’re going to go through as many guys as they can before they move me back to that spot,” Reed said.

- Horton wasn’t happy with his team’s sloppiness to begin Oregon’s first game of its doubleheader against Seattle on Tuesday, but he said the unexpected change of schedule (the doubleheader was announced Monday) might’ve caused a lack of energy to start the game. But overall, Horton was happy with his team’s 10-2 win. “We turned some crooked numbers into ones or zeros, squandered some opportunities early that looked like they could’ve cost us,” Horton said. “Nonetheless, the fact that they were able to get that six late and put the game out of reach, I thought it was a good effort.”

- Freshman Mark Karaviotis started at shortstop in both of Oregon’s wins over Seattle on Tuesday, replacing Kevin Minjares. Horton said Karaviotis will keep the starting job, at least for the near future. “We’ve got a talented freshman that might bring more to the table than Minny,” Horton said, “so I would expect Karaviotis, unless he does something crazy, will start this weekend.”

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