Oregon freshman starting pitcher Matt Krook was all over the place Saturday against Utah, but he and the bullpen were able to limit the damage and come out on top, beating the Utes (9-12, 0-5 Pac-12) 4-1. Oregon baseball (16-5, 4-1) won the series, as well.
Krook said he’s been sick all week with a cold, and he, Kruger and Horton said that was partly why he struggled with his control on Saturday. The left-hander threw several pitches in the dirt, hit a couple batters and struggled getting ahead in the count, especially early on.
“It never fully came together today,” Krook said. “I don’t feel great about it but we got a win.”
In the first, Krook got ahead of leadoff hitter Kody Davis 1-2 in the count only to plunk him. Mark Karaviotis turned a 6-4-3 double play the next at-bat on a brilliant diving stop and flip to Aaron Payne. Krook promptly hit the next batter, TJ Bennett, on an 0-2 count and gave up an infield single to Wyler Smith right after that.
On the single, Karaviotis ranged to his right and made a tough throw that hit the dirt and bounced under first baseman A.J. Balta’s glove. Bennett advanced to third on the error and saw that nobody was covering home, so he rounded the bag and scored easily.
Catcher Jack Kruger was backing up the errant throw on the play, so it was Krook’s job to cover home. However, Krook was positioned between the pitcher’s mound and first base, leaving home plate empty. Both Kruger and Krook took blame for mistake.
“It was just a lack of awareness on my part,” Krook said. “I should’ve seen that coming. But good baserunning on (Bennett’s) part.”
The Utah lead didn’t last long. Aaron Payne led off the first inning with a double and moved to third on an Austin Grebeck sacrifice bunt. Tyler Baumgartner came up and scorched a triple to right-center to bring home Payne. Mitchell Tolman drove in Baumgartner with a sacrifice fly the next at-bat.
The oddities continued in the second inning. Krook gave up a double and a single to start the inning, giving Utah runners on first and third with no outs. On the pitch directly after the single, Biss Larsen swung and missed on a fastball but Kruger was expecting a breaking ball (Kruger said he gave the wrong sign). The ball flew to the backstop, causing both runners to take off. But the ball bounced right back to Kruger, who easily tagged Konnor Armijo at home plate.
“That was my fault,” Kruger said. “We caught a break right there.”
Krook would escape the inning unscathed and would settle down after that, pitching three more innings while allowing three Utes to reach base. Horton said Krook was a little frustrated he was taken out after five.
“He’d been sick, I thought that was a good day’s work,” Horton said. “I’m glad it didn’t backfire on us.”
Another odd play happened in the top of the fourth. Utah’s Max Schuman hit a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. A couple of pitches later, Krook threw a breaking ball way out in front of the plate that Kruger blocked. However, the ball bounced off Kruger far back into the field of play near the pitcher’s mound. Schuman took off when the ball bounced off Kruger but Krook got to it right away and threw Schuman out by plenty at third base.
“I’ve played a lot of baseball and I’ve never, ever seen that,” said Kruger, who didn’t know where the ball was after it ricocheted off him.
The Ducks tacked on a couple more runs in the bottom of the seventh to provide some insurance for their bullpen, which pitched four hitless innings to preserve the lead.
“If I’ve got a lead, it’s going to stay,” Krook said. “Right now, our bullpen’s dominant.”
Krook got the win, striking out six and giving up five hits, two walks and one run (unearned). Jake Reed earned his fifth save of the season. Oregon will go for the sweep of the Utes tomorrow at 11 a.m.
“Once you extend (the lead) with our bullpen, that’s the dagger,” Horton said. “I commend my guys that we continue to get zeroes in the seventh, eighth and ninth and continue to get runs.”
- Reed pitched back-to-back games (and earned back-to-back saves) for the second time this season and the first time in a month (Feb. 22-23). Reed said he typically feels a little stiff after his outings and isn’t sure how he’ll feel going into tomorrow’s game. “We’ll see what Coach Horton decides, but I feel like I’d be ready,” Reed said.
- Oregon infielder Scott Heineman will undergo surgery on his left shoulder, which he strained on Feb. 23 against Loyola Marymount, and miss the rest of the season. The news was first reported on Friday. The junior infielder made one appearance (on March 14 against USC) after the initial injury but re-tweaked his shoulder on a swing against USC. Heineman was rated as the 26th-best college prospect in the country before the season by Baseball America.
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415