By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
An early season showdown looms for the Stanford baseball team when Pac-10 Conference leader Oregon State comes to town for a three-game series, beginning with Friday's 5:30 p.m. start.
There's a lot of baseball to be played, yet the 17th-ranked Cardinal (3-3, 16-9) could use a series win to get its conference record back on track; especially when it is the first home conference series of the year.
The Cardinal snapped a two-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over Pacific on Tuesday night and has won eight of 11 games. Stanford is 6-6 in games decided by two runs or less.
Mark Appel (2-3, 3.09) has assumed the Friday night starter role. The sophomore is coming off his best effort as a college pitcher. He threw a four-hit complete game at USC last weekend, allowing an unearned run. He struck out seven and did not walk a batter.
Appel, who became a full-time starter last summer, has helped ease the loss of Brett Mooneyham to injury.
"I feel that everything is just coming together this season," Appel told blogger Jessica Quiroli. "(Starting) was a huge step into getting to where I want to be. I am definitely a long ways away and still have tons of work to do, but seeing some results from the work and effort I have put in is rewarding."
Appel developed a changeup while pitching for the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League last summer to go with his fastball and slider and credits that in helping him make the successful transition to starter.
"I feel comfortable throwing it in any count," he told Quiroli. "Having three pitches has allowed me to be efficient to let me go deep into games and keep the hitters off balance. Coach (Rusty) Filter does a good job of calling the pitches and Zach Jones, our catcher, has a lot of experience behind the plate, so it is great learning all I can from those guys just about different situations and the right pitches to make."
Stanford is happy he was paying attention. Appel has allowed two earned runs over his past 19 innings for a 0.95 ERA.
Jordan Pries (4-2, 2.63) has also been dependable as a starter. The junior right-hander has a team-high 35 strikeouts in 41 innings. Dean McArdle (4-1, 3.29) has also been a weekend starter.
Chris Reed (1-1, 2.70) has become the closer, saving four games on the season. He has 24 strikeouts and walked eight in 23 innings. Danny Sandbrink (2-0, 2.49) has also been reliable as a spot starter and reliever.
The ninth-ranked Beavers (5-1, 24-7) have all the credentials of a national title contender and bring a six-game winning streak to Sunken Diamond. They have won nine of 11 overall, which includes a sweep of Arizona State and a series win over Arizona.
If there's a crack in the Oregon State armor, it's the 6-5 road record, which includes losses at Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and Fresno State.
The Beavers hit .279 as a team but the pitching has been the most impressive. Oregon State sports a team ERA of 2.88, with junior Sam Gaviglio (6-1, 1.34) the ace of the staff. Josh Osich (4-0, 3.71), Ben Wetzler (4-1, 4.37) and James Nygren (5-1, 3.68) have also provided quality starts. Gaviglio has completed three games, striking out 60 in as many innings, and Nygren owns the other complete game for the Beavers.
The Oregon State bullpen is stacked with Matt Boyd (0-0, 1.17, three saves) and Tony Bryant (2-1, 1.72, three saves) leading the way. Ryan Dunn (0-1, 2.70) als has a save.
Stanford can answer with a .309 team batting average, third in the Pac-10 and a 3.28 team ERA, fifth in the Pac-10, just behind the Beavers.
Stanford ranks ninth in team fielding percentage at .965, ahead of only Washington State.
Menlo School grad Kenny Diekroeger leads Stanford, and is third in the Pac-10, with his .373 average. He is hitless over his past two games following a 16-game hitting streak.
Oregon State's Andrew Susac, who ranks fourth in the conference at .364, tops the Pac-10 with his .614 slugging percentage.
Stanford has yet to play the four teams ahead of it in the standings, which means the Cardinal can dictate its own destiny.