The Oregon baseball team hasn’t played a road game in over a month. That will change this week, as the Ducks (17-5, 5-1 Pac-12) embark on a 530 mile bus ride to San Francisco on Monday to start a 10-game road trip.
“I’m not a fan of bus rides,” Oregon catcher Shaun Chase said after Sunday’s 3-1 win over Utah. “But we have a game Tuesday and we have to get prepared for it.”
Oregon faces the San Francisco Dons (11-10, 2-4 WCC) for a two-game series starting Tuesday at 2 p.m., and Oregon head coach George Horton is expecting these two games to kick off a challenging next couple of weeks. The Ducks will get three total days off during this road trip, which also features a two-game battle against Gonzaga a week from Tuesday and weekend series against Pac-12 foes Stanford (8-10, 1-2) and Washington (16-5-1, 5-1).
“10 (games) in two weeks, that’s a pretty significant challenge,” Horton said after Sunday’s game. “That’ll have a tendency to stretch our pitching staff a little bit, the depth of our ball club.”
The Dons might not be the toughest opponent Oregon will face on this trip, but they won’t be an easy out. San Francisco went 35-24 last season and was the three seed (out of four teams) at the NCAA Regionals in Eugene last season. The Ducks beat the Dons 6-1 in the semifinal game before losing the Rice in the Regional Final.
Chase and Tyler Baumgartner starred in their victory over San Francisco on June 2, both blasting home runs and getting on base three times. Mitchell Tolman got on base twice that game and drove in two runs.
Those three will all likely see action on Tuesday and Wednesday against a starting pitching staff that has struggled this season. All five players who have started games for the Dons have earned run averages above 3.00. Only one player in that group, Grant Goodman (3.04 ERA), has an ERA under 3.95.
The starters for San Francisco against Oregon haven’t been announced yet, but Horton told reporters on Sunday that Porter Clayton (2.79 ERA, eight strikeouts, five walks in 9.2 innings pitched) and Brando Tessar (2.25 ERA, seven Ks, zero BBs in 8.0 IP) will get the Tuesday and Wednesday nods for Oregon. Horton said Clayton will be on a pitch count Tuesday in order for him to be available later in the road trip.
Both Clayton and Tessar will be making their second starts of the season but neither has seen much action in the last month. Since Feb. 25 against Portland (14 games ago), the two have combined to pitch 4.1 innings.
“I think it’s good we have a Tuesday-Wednesday series so those guys can get some work in,” Horton said. “They need some work.”
Clayton, Tessar and the Oregon bullpen will be facing a top-heavy Dons lineup. Center fielder Bradley Zimmer was rated as one of the best position players in college baseball going into the season and he’s backed that up with a remarkable first 21 games. He leads the Dons in batting average (.427), extra-base hits (12, including five home runs), slugging percentage (.697), on-base percentage (.474) and stolen bases (11 in 14 attempts).
Right fielder Derek Atkinson has also performed well this season (slash line of .349/.372/.453), but San Francisco’s offense falls off quite a bit after him.
Oregon’s lineup will face a fairly tough bullpen, but if it can feast on San Francisco’s struggling starters, it won’t need to worry about producing against the Dons relievers.
Regardless of how the Ducks perform against San Francisco, they’ll be tested the next two weeks. Horton’s thankful his players are on spring break this week but knows it will be tough for them to duplicate their undefeated road trip to start the season.
“This is gonna be a tough one,” Horton said. “The only good news is they don’t have school to deal with.”
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415