U pitchers hope to tame feeble Tiger bats

The U baseball team (4-8) begins a three-game road series today in Stockton, Calif., against the Pacific Tigers (9-6). Tonight’s game begins at 6 p.m., a fact that U coach Tim Esmay thinks will have a serious impact on the game.

“Their park is more of a pitchers park,” Esmay said. “So Friday night’s game will be more of a pitchers’ game. The ball doesn’t really carry well there at night, so our offense will have to be scrappy for us to win.”

If the Utes are in store for a pitchers’ duel, they have a slight advantage in the form of sophomore hurler Jason Price.

Price has a 3.29 ERA and has allowed only 19 hits in 27.1 innings of work. His counterpart for the Tigers, Andy Willick, has also worked 27.1 innings, but he has surrendered 30 hits and 12 earned runs.

Price has been solid for the Utes all season and has thrown two consecutive complete games. His success, however, is not unexpected.

“Jason threw a lot for us last year as a freshman. He started out as a reliever, then he worked his way up to the Sunday starter, and by the end of the year he was pretty much the No. 1,” Esmay said. “He’s got a great pitching mentality and a great sense of composure, and that enables him to pitch for us in big-time situations.”

In addition to their edge on the hill, the Utes also seem to have an edge at the dish, especially after their success there last weekend. Utah batted .317 and scored 30 runs as a team in three victories in St. George, and as a result raised its team average from .199 to .255. In fact, Esmay feels that the pitching is pretty much even between the two teams, so the offensive production will be seminal to his team’s success.

Pacific’s lineup, on the other hand, hasn’t exactly been knocking the ball around lately.

“[The Tigers] have been surviving on the strength of their pitching staff,” Esmay said. “Their offense has been very average, so our pitchers should have a good weekend. “Our success will be based on our offensive production.”

It took the Tigers 14 games to amass the same number of runs (30) the Utes racked up in their last three. In addition, Pacific has managed only three home runs in their 15 games, while the Utes have hit 15 homers in 12 games.

However, the thickness of the California coastal air will probably turn some homers into outs, and make slap singles much more instrumental.

It will also make a pitcher’s ability to get out of jams more crucial, as runs will have to be manufactured by rallies.

Advantage: Pacific.

In game two, Pacific sends its ace, Alex Graham, to the hill against Ute junior Doug Mackay. Graham has a 1.97 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 32 innings of work.

Mackay has a comparable strikeout total (24), but his ERA is almost nine full points higher (10.31).

Esmay feels that these stats are misleading, however, and that Mackay is due for a solid outing.

“Doug has gotten better and better in his last two outings,” Esmay said. “His stats don’t indicate how good he has looked at certain points during his last two starts. Against [SUU] he lost control of his fastball early, but he got it back and really took that game over. I expect he’ll have success against Pacific.”

In game three, another embattled Ute starter, freshman Eric Schaler, will take the mound for the Utes. With an ERA of 16.62 and only 8.2 innings of work in four starts, Schaler hasn’t lived up to expectations, but Esmay hasn’t lost faith yet.

“Schaler is a freshman, and right now, he’s struggling with the adjustment from high school to [Division 1],” Esmay said. “At times he’s looked brilliant, and at times he’s looked like a freshman, but he’s got great stuff, so he’ll be fine once he gets adjusted.”

Schaler will have an opportunity to rebound from his poor start against an offense that isn’t as good as the ones he’s seen recently. He will have to pitch well to beat Pacific starter Mike Mathews, whose ERA is 12 points lower than Schaler’s.

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