Oregon baseball: Several signs of light in losing effort for Ducks’ first Pac-12 game

Oregon infielder Scott Heineman (6) runs toward first base before being putted during the bottom of the sixth inning. The Oregon Ducks host the USC Trojans at PK Park in Eugene, Ore. on Friday, March 14. (Taylor Wilder/Emerald)

Oregon infielder Scott Heineman (6) runs toward first base before being putted during the bottom of the sixth inning. The Oregon Ducks host the USC Trojans at PK Park in Eugene, Ore. on Friday, March 14. (Taylor Wilder/Emerald)

Posted by Victor Flores on Friday, Mar. 14 at 10:33 pm.

The normally sure-handed Tyler Baumgartner was having a rough defensive night, but he didn’t do anything egregious  going into the eighth inning. The right fielder missed a catchable ball on a diving effort in the first inning and bobbled a ball off the wall in the third inning during a run-scoring play, but the first play didn’t prove costly and the second might not have have changed the outcome of the play.

But a third play in the eighth inning might have cost the Ducks their Pac-12 opener against USC Friday night.

USC third baseman Kevin Swick skied a shallow fly ball to right field, and Baumgartner camped under it. But as the ball approached the earth, Baumgartner completely whiffed on the catch. The error would’ve been ugly had no runners been on base, but unfortunately for Oregon, USC had runners on second and third. The runner on third, Garrett Stubbs, scored on the play, giving the Trojans a decisive third run and a two-run lead. They ended up beating Oregon 3-2.

“I think he (Baumgartner) had a lot of things going on in his mind,” said head coach George Horton about the error in the eighth. “Is he going to throw it? Where is he going to throw it? I don’t know, you’d have to ask him. But he’s a tremendous baseball player. That’s not going to happen to him very often.”

Horton had several instances of this positive attitude in his postgame media session. While he acknowledged the disappointment of the loss, he saw the multitude of bright spots that encourage him going forward.

The Ducks had three more hits than the Trojans and bounced back after a rough start against USC starting pitcher Wyatt Strahan. While Strahan still probably put together his best start all season (7.2 innings pitched, one earned run, one walk, seven strikeouts), the Ducks strung together seven hits and nearly ruined the night for the junior, whose fastball sat in the mid-90s all game and touched 97 miles per hour on a strikeout of Mitchell Tolman.

“Later in the game, he (Strahan) died down a little bit,” Tolman said. “But I don’t think we took advantage as much as we should have and we were just chasing a bit too much.”

The brightest spots in the lineup were Mitchell Tolman (2-for-3, one walk), Shaun Chase (2-for-2) and Kyle Garlick (1-for-4, two RBI). Garlick extended his hitting streak to 14 games, which is an Oregon record since the team was reinstated in 2009.

“I love building the stats and everything,” Garlick said, “but I’d much rather have gotten the win tonight than have the streak go on.”

Third baseman Scott Heineman, who missed the previous nine games, returned to the lineup Friday night and hit well, going 1-for-4 with a smoked line drive in the seventh that found center fielder Timmy Robinson’s glove. Heineman did tweak his left shoulder on a swing a couple of pitches before the lineout, but he played the final two innings.

“Hopefully he can play tomorrow,” Horton said. “He looked pretty good to me other than swinging and missing that one time and feeling (shoulder pain) a little bit.”

Aaron Payne was declared day-to-day by Horton on Wednesday and he said postgame that Payne was expected to be the designated hitter Friday night. Surprisingly, Payne said he was good to go at second base and the Oregon coaching staff decided to let him play.

“That was a real bright spot that he was able to play defense for us,” Horton said.

This is without even mentioning the solid, albeit inconsistent, start from Tommy Thorpe and good showings from relievers Garrett Cleavinger and Jake Reed.

The Ducks certainly didn’t play a great game. But even the defensive woes aren’t too worrisome considering the main player at fault, Baumgartner, is a good overall fielder. If the Ducks continue to play games like this in Pac-12 play, it’s doubtful the outcomes will be as disappointing as they were tonight.

“I like the way my team responded. We didn’t get it done, we didn’t win, we didn’t come back and tie it, but I like the response.”

Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415