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Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 20, 2012

Stanford not a hit at plate

Opposing pitchers have taken the bat out of the Cardinal's collective hand

by Rick Eymer

It wasn't so long ago that Stanford's offensive statistics were among the best in Pac-12 baseball. The Cardinal enjoyed a team batting average of over .300 before last weekend's series with visiting Oregon.

A week and four games later, Stanford's offensive numbers have taken a slide. Much of that has to do with pitching. The Ducks currently rank 19th in the nation with a team ERA of 2.87. The 10th Cardinal (5-7, 22-10) managed to win one of the three games against Oregon despite scoring all of six runs and collecting 16 hits in the series.

"A lot of the lack of hitting can be attributed to good pitching," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "We've hit balls hard but right at people."

San Jose State brought one of the nation's top 30 pitching staffs to town Tuesday and held the Cardinal to two runs on five hits in a Spartans' 3-2 victory.

Stanford will be facing an even better staff this weekend when Arizona State visits for a three-game series beginning Friday at 5:30 p.m.

The Sun Devils boast two of the country's top pitchers in terms of ERA, and the third-best pitching staff overall at 2.57.

Stanford is no slouch when it comes to pitching either, as Mark Appel and Brett Mooneyham lead a staff that sports a 3.01 ERA.

In fact, Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford rank 1-2-3 in Pac-12 pitching. After 12 conference games, the Cardinal have faced five of the top 10 pitchers, and Stanford's Josh Hochstatter, who threw four innings against the Spartans, is one one of the 10.

Stanford contends with Arizona State's Brady Rodgers (6-1, 1.12) and Trevor Williams (7-2, 1.41) in the first two games of the series. Appel (4-1, 2.86) and Mooneyham (5-3, 3.18), the top two strikeout leaders in the Pac-12, will oppose the Sun Devils.

"They have one of the better pitching staffs in the conference," Marquess said. "It will be tough and we need to play well."

Oregon, UCLA and Arizona are in a three-way tie for first place in the Pac-12 and Stanford is 1-5 against the trio, with a series yet to be played against the Bruins.

The only reason Arizona State is a game back of the co-leaders is a sloppy defense, something that has also haunted Stanford.

The seventh-place Cardinal and Sun Devils are ranked eighth and ninth, respectively, in team fielding.

It's the offense of that that has to have Stanford scratching its collective head. The team batting average has fallen to .288 after dropping three of its last four games. The Cardinal is hitting .232 in conference games and has a .188 average in its 10 losses.

"You're going to see good arms every Friday, Saturday and Sunday," Stanford freshman Alex Blandino said. "It comes down to who puts the ball in play and who gets the key hits."

Blandino, a Palo Alto resident and St. Francis High grad, has put together a string of quality at-bats lately. He hit a two-run home run to account for both of Stanford's runs Tuesday night and has seen his average rise to its current .277.

"He's done a good job and made adjustments," Marquess said. "He's still learning."

Blandino, last year's WCAL Player of the Year, said it was easy to work hard with the kind of ethic displayed by Stanford veterans.

"Every guy who is back from last year has been a real role model," Blandino said. "These are guys who have played in regionals and super regionals. Right now we have a couple of injuries and coach is giving guys some looks. It's all a matter of taking advantage of your opportunities."

He'll get plenty more chances now that shortstop Lonnie Kauppila's season is over. The sophomore injured his left knee on a ground ball up the middle on Sunday.

Blandino, who made the start at third base Tuesday, hit his third home run of the season, a two-run shot that disappeared into the trees beyond the left field, to give Stanford a 2-0 lead in the third against the Spartans.

Stanford pitcher Dean McArdle, who entered the game in the fifth, made a sudden departure in the sixth. Spartans' outfielder Nick Shulz hit a line drive that drilled McArdle just above his right wrist.

McArdle tracked down the ball along the first base line but his awkward throw was not in time and he continued running into the Stanford dugout. He was replaced by Sahil Bloom.

McArdle was able to flex his right hand and may have been lucky to be hit in a meaty part of his arm.

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