Saturday, February 28, 2009

ASU's Leake takes no-hitter into 8th vs. Missouri

Right-hander Mike Leake, the pride of Fallbrook High, carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Friday against Missouri before the Tigers' Andrew Thigpen doubled to break it up. Leake got three straight outs after that and left after eight innings with a 2-0 lead

Baseball America's John Manuel was at the game on the first day of the DeMarini Invitational and watched Leake win the duel against Missouri's Kyle Gibson. Leake, the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year last year, is already 2-0 this season. He came into the season with a 24-5 career record, one of only three Sun Devils pitchers to win 20+ games coming into their junior year.

Here's the link to Manuel's report: LEAKE STORY

BA ranks Leake No. 22 among its top 100 College Prospects.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Strasburg deals against Nevada

San Diego State junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg had it going in his 2009 home debut against Nevada, striking out 16 batters in 6 2/3 innings and clocking 102 mph on the radar gun in SDSU's 5-2 win Thursday night at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

Strasburg struck out the side in the first, third, fifth and sixth innings. He allowed a one-out single to right field by Nevada's Brett Hart in the second inning. Hart was erased on an attempted steal of second, meaning Strasburg had still pitched to the minimum. Rght fielder Cory Vaughn drop a fly ball that would have ended the fourth, allowing the Wolf Pack to extend the inning with a single by Shaun Kort before Strasburg struck out Brett Hart to get out of it. Nick Malino singled in the fifth for Nevada's third hit.

The Aztecs broke through for three runs in the third — all with two outs — on a wild pitch and a two-run single by freshman Brandon Meredith. SDSU added two more runs in the fifth.

That was more than enough offense the way Strasburg was throwing. He departed with two outs in the seventh after allowing two runs on a two-out walk, a double and a single that made it 5-2.

Strasburg's line for the game — 6 2/3 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 16 SO, 1 BB.

Strasburg struck out 11 last week in the season-opener, a 6-3 win over Bethune Cookman at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton. He struck out every starter in the lineup at least once, although he had to work at times to stay in command. He topped out at 99 mph against Bethune Cookman. Word is that he hit 102 mph on back-to-back pitches during an intersquad three weeks ago. Strasburg did it for the first time — seven times, actually — in a game tonight against Nevada.

More on Strasburg's velocity here in the game story I did for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Strasburg's next scheduled outing is Thursday, March 5, in a 2 p.m. game at USD.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lavigne earns MWC Pitcher of the Week

San Diego State junior right-hander Tyler Lavigne was named Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Week for the two-hit shutout he tossed Sunday in the Aztecs' 3-0 victory over 11th-ranked USD.

Lavigne, a transfer from the College of Southern Nevada, allowed only four balls to be hit out of the infield, three of them fly balls caught for outs. He retired the first nine batters he faced before allowing up an infield single open the fourth inning. That base runner was short-lived, however, as a double play and strikeout ended the inning.

Lavigne, using an excellent sinker, got 18 ground ball outs. He struck out five and walked one.

Observations from opening weekend

It seems like the opening weekend of the 2009 season took forever to get here. And it did. Darn universal start date (two years ago USD and San Diego State had played more than a dozen games by this point). But that's an old rant. What's new? Here's a few observations:

— Friday's season opener gave us the first glimpse of SDSU All-American Stephen Strasburg, and the junior right-hander from West Hill High didn't disappoint. Strasburg opened the game with a 98 mph fastball, touched 99 later in the inning and dominated Bethune Cookman. And it wasn't as if Strasburg was in midseason form. He struggled more with his .

— There were several memorable moments Saturday at the MLB Urban Youth Academy, from Duke Snider and Frank Robinson throwing out first pitches to the Bethune Cookman and Southern marching bands entertaining the crowd. The 60-member Bethune band, accompanied by four gyrating dancers, livened things up along the third-base line adjacent to the USD dugout. They were all over Toreros shortstop Sean Nicol whenever he jogged back to the dugout after an at-bat, giving Nicol his marching orders: "left, right, left, right, left, right. . . ." Among those introduced during the day was actor James Van Der Beek. His baseball connection wasn't clear. I don't recall ever seeing him swing a bat on "Dawson's Creek." He did make a pitch for Katie Holmes, though.

— The Toreros have high hopes this season for USD sophomore right-hander Kyle Blair, but he was plagued Saturday against Bethune Cookman with the inconsistency that marked his freshman season last year. He hit three batters in the first inning, and was further hindered by the plate umpire's inability to identify the strike zone. Blair bears watching to see how quickly he can get it together. When he was good last year, he was great.

— A couple of local freshmen made impressive debuts. USD's Austin Green (Patrick Henry), who got an opportunity with teammate Bryan Haar (Grossmont) nursing a sore hamstring, collected a few hits to make a case for a regular spot in the starting lineup. SDSU's Ryan O'Sullivan stood out defensively at shortstop. It's early — real early — but O'Sullivan has the potential to be something special for the Aztecs before he's done.

— If SDSU junior right-hander Tyler Lavigne is even close to as good this season as he was in pitching a two-hitter Sunday at USD, then the Aztecs' starting rotation could have the depth to carry the club to the postseason for the first time since 1991.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

SDSU's Lavigne two-hits USD

San Diego State junior right-hander Tyler Lavigne was a bundle of nerves warming up in the bullpen before yesterday’s game against USD.

“I get nervous,” said Lavigne, a transfer from College of Southern Nevada who was making his first start in an Aztecs uniform.
Lavigne said he sometimes needs 20 minutes of pregame throwing on the sidelines “to get all my adrenaline out.”
When Lavigne took the mound against the Toreros he said he was still shaking, although he could have fooled anyone watching.

Lavigne sure fooled the No. 11-ranked Toreros, tossing a two-hit shutout in the Aztecs’ 3-0 win as a near-capacity crowd of 717 looked on under a canopy of clouds at Cunningham Stadium.

“He just threw strikes,” said USD coach Rich Hill. “Everything was at the knees. When you locate underneath the kneecaps to both sides of the plate, good things are going to happen. We just pounded the ball into the ground all game long.”

Lavigne pitched to just two batters over the minimum through the first six innings. An infield single by Kevin Muno in the fourth inning was the Toreros’ only hit before Steven Chatwood’s two-out double in the seventh.

“He kept the ball down in the zone all day and threw a good mix of pitches,” said Muno “We couldn’t really guess on any pitches.”

The Aztecs (2-1) collected eight hits off three USD pitchers, who combined to hit six batters. Jomel Torres led SDSU with two hits and teammate Easton Gust had two RBI.

SDSU scored single runs in the third, fourth and sixth innings and could have (should have?) had more but for two double plays turned by the Toreros (2-1).

It didn’t matter the way Lavigne was pitching. He never labored during a 105-pitch outing in which he faced the minimum six times — including the eighth and ninth innings — and never faced more than four batters in an inning.

Lavigne, who struck out five and walked one, said his recipe for success was simple: “Keep the ball low, get ground balls and not stress out too much.”

Utilizing his command and a strong sinkerball will make Lavigne a nice compliment to hard-throwing Stephen Strasburg and Nate Solow at the top of the SDSU rotation.

It also will ratchet up this rivalry.

USD had dominated the series in recent years, winning nine of 11 games before the Aztecs won three of four games to open the 2008 season.

“It really hadn’t been a rivalry until last year,” said SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. “USD had pounded us pretty good. Last year we were able to turn it around a little bit. Anytime these two teams get together it’s going to be competitive and spirited.”

The teams meet for a four-game series March 5-8.

Perhaps USD will have figured out Lavigne by then. The Toreros sure had no answers against him yesterday.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

USD rallies for second straight win

COMPTON — For the second straight day, No. 11-ranked USD built a big early lead and needed every bit of it.
The Toreros led by six runs early against Bethune Cookman on the way to a 9-6 victory Saturday afternoon at the MLB Urban Youth Academy Invitational.

USD’s first three hitters reached base off Bethune Cookman starting pitcher Eric Thomas, and all three came around to score to provide an early 3-0 lead for the Toreros (2-0).

Kevin Muno singled to start the game, James Meador then walked and Victor Sanchez followed with a single to score Muno with the game’s first run. Meador scored on Nick McCoy’s grounder to shortstop and Sanchez scored on Jose Valerio’s sacrifice fly to center field.

Although staked to the early lead, USD sophomore right-hander Kyle Blair had troubles of his own in the first inning, hitting three batters. The Wildcats scored one run in the inning to make it 3-1, but Blair avoided further damage by striking out Alejandro Sanchez to end the inning with the bases loaded.

USD padded its lead to 5-1 in the third on RBI singles by Zach Walters and Austin Green.

Blair sailed through the next two innings, retiring the side in order in both the second and the third.

The 60-member Bethune Cookman marching band sat in the stands adjacent to the USD dugout along the third base line and entertained fans between innings. Band members also playfully chided the Toreros, including chanting “left, right, left, right, left, right” whenever shortstop Sean Nicol jogged back to the dugout after at-bats.

Muno led off the fourth inning with a home run to right-center field on an 0-2 pitch from Thomas. Two batters later, Sanchez launched a deep home run to left field that made it 7-1. Band members didn’t have much to say about that.

Bethune Cookman got back in the game in the bottom of the fourth when an error by Valerio at first base and back-to-back walks loaded the bases with no outs to fuel a five-run rally that made it 7-6.

Blair, who allowed four hits, six runs (five earned) and struck out five, gave way to Matt Thomson in the sixth inning.
Thomson restored order, pitching four scoreless innings for the save. Thomson allowed just one hit and struck out six.

USD got some breathing room in the eighth inning when Meador greeted reliever Justin Dahl with a two-out triple that scored Green and Muno to make it 9-6.

Muno led the Toreros with three hits. Meador and Sanchez had two RBI apiece.

USD plays host to San Diego State on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Cunningham Stadium.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Strasburg gets off to strong start

COMPTON — San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg set the bar so high for himself last season that outstanding has been reduced to routine.

Strasburg clocked 98 mph with his first pitch in yesterday’s season opener against Bethune Cookman. No big deal. He routinely registers triple digits on the radar gun.

Strasburg had 11 strikeouts against the Wildcats — getting every player in the starting lineup at least once. Ho hum. That’s not even half as many strikeouts (23) as Strasburg had last year against Utah.

At least Bethune Cookman made Strasburg break a sweat in SDSU’s 6-3 win over the Wildcats in the MLB Urban Youth Academy Invitational.

“The second inning on they really made him work,” said SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. “You figure that’s what people are going to do. They’re not going to throw in the towel just because he’s throwing hard. But Strassy struck with his guns. He kept pounding the strike zone. I thought he threw the ball well.”

Said Strasburg: “They’re a (regular) Regional team. They hung in there against me and I was able to get some tough outs in key situations. . . . I wanted them to show me they could hit my good stuff. I really just challenged them all game.”

The Aztecs batted around in the second inning, collecting five hits and four runs — beginning with T.J. Thomas’ leadoff homer — against Wildcats starter Hiram Burgos. Burgos came in with pretty good credentials himself — 9-1 with a 1.58 ERA last season — but he couldn’t match Strasburg.

“I don’t think our guys were intimidated or overmatched by the No. 1 pitcher in the nation,” said Bethune Cookman coach Mervyl Melendez. “We just have to take advantage of our opportunities when they present themselves against a pitcher like that.

“He’s not used to being behind, of course. One base hit in the first inning changes how he pitches. We just needed to do a better job early on and get in his head a little bit to see how he reacts to adversity.”

The closest Strasburg came to adversity when he allowed runners to reach second and third with two outs in the first. He promptly struck out the Wildcats’ Chris Brown to end the threat.

Strasburg had a shutout going through 5 2/3 innings before Brown dropped a single in front of SDSU right fielder Cory Vaughn to make it 4-1. It was the last of 105 pitches thrown by Strasburg, who allowed three hits, two walks and the one run.

Bethune Cookman got two hits with two outs in the ninth against SDSU closer Addison Reed to bring the tying run to the plate before Reed got Alejandro Jimenez to fly out to shortstop Ryan O’Sullivan to end the game.

Aztecs aim to end postseason drought

The Mountain West Conference was created 10 years ago and over the past decade it has never received an at-large berth to the NCAA Regionals in baseball.

In fact, the conference didn’t even get an automatic berth when it debuted in 2000. And guess who would have gone to the playoffs that season?
San Diego State.

The Aztecs won the inaugural MWC tournament championship, but the NCAA didn’t give automatic berths to first-year conferences. Figures.

SDSU has been outside looking in ever since. It’s been one thing or another — porous defense, subpar pitching , sluggish offense, take your pick — that has dashed the Aztecs’ postseason hopes.

A generation has now passed since SDSU’s most recent postseason appearance in 1991.

SDSU coach Tony Gwynn thinks about it all the time.

“Every day,” said Gwynn, whose team went 31-28 last season. “That’s never going to change. Obviously, that’s what you want to do. That’s your goal.”

The Aztecs take the first step toward that goal this afternoon when they open the 2009 season against Bethune Cookman at the MLB Urban Youth Academy Invitational in Compton.

Junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the nation’s top-rated pitcher, will be on the mound for SDSU .

“Obviously, having a guy like Strasburg on your staff is a huge thing,” said Gwynn. “But he’s got enough pressure already. We’re just asking him to lead our young guys and give us a chance to win.

“Everybody points the finger at Stephen being the saviour, but we have to get production from everybody.”

Pitching should be the team’s strength. Junior left-hander Nate Solow, who would be the ace of many staffs, is the Aztecs’ No. 2 starter. Senior right-hander Jon Berger also is an experienced starter. Freshman right-hander Ryan O’Sullivan figures to get weekday starts, but could pitch himself into the weekend rotation. And sophomore right-hander Addison Reed acquitted himself well in the closer’s role last season.

“We feel like our strength is our pitching,” said Gwynn. “Offensively, you just don’t know until you play somebody.”
Senior C/3B Erik Castro (.25, 5 HR, 29 RBI), junior OF Pat Colwell (.313, 3 HR, 25 RBI), INF/OF Brandon Decker (.325, 23 RBI) and sophomore OF Cory Vaughn (.243, 6 HR, 28 RBI) are returning starters.

Highy-regarded freshmen O’Sullivan (Valhalla High) and Brandon Meredith (Montgomery High) have earned starting spots at shortstop and first base, respectively.

Others must step up, however, if the Aztecs are to end the stranglehold TCU has held on the MWC title since the Horned Frogs joined the conference three years ago.
In a preseason coaches/media poll, TCU was selected to win the MWC once again. The Aztecs were picked for second place.

“We’ve come out of the gate playing pretty good baseball the last couple of years,” said Gwynn. “We just haven’t been able to finish.

“So if we’re going to struggle, I’d rather struggle early and play good late.”


— The offense went AWOL in the closing weeks of both the 2007 and 2008 seasons. A search party has been dispatched. It will report back in May.

— Middle defense has been a strong suit the past two years, but the core up the middle — shortstop Ryan O’Sullivan, second baseman Mitch Blackburn and center fielder Pat Colwell — is all new.

— O’Sullivan, a freshman from Valhalla High, is positioned to make quite an impact as the team’s starting shortstop, No. 4 starting pitcher and key offensive contributor.

Toreros re-arm with Solis, Blair

Pitchers Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski led USD to a national profile the past three years, particularly last season when the Toreros came within a win of reaching the NCAA Super Regionals.

Nearly half of the Toreros’ school-record 44 victories in 2008 came with either Matusz (12-2) or Romanski (9-1) on the mound. Romanski also was one of the Toreros’ top hitters.

Now that the left-handers have moved on — Matusz with the Baltimore Orioles organization and Romanski with the Milwaukee Brewers — it is time for someone else to take the ball and throw with it.

“You can’t replace those guys,” said USD coach Rich Hill. “The other guys are going to have to take the opportunity to step up.
“In a tradition-rich program — look to USC football as the model — somebody’s ready to step in every single year. At a private school with limited resources like us, it’s difficult to do. . . . We’re not deep. We have a small roster where we pour our scholarship money into a few guys and roll with it.”

Sophomores Sammy Solis, a left-hander from Arizona, and Kyle Blair, a right-hander from Northern California, were eased into the mix a year and responded well. Ready or not, Solis and Blair will be front and center this season.

The Toreros, ranked No. 11 in Baseball America’s preseason rankings, open the 2009 season on Friday against Southern University at the MLB Urban Youth Academy Tournament in Compton. Solis (3-1, 3.83 ERA, 42 SO/49.1 IP in 2008) will be on the mound against Southern. Blair (8-4, 3.86 ERA, 99 SO/74.2 IP) follows the next day against Bethune Cookman.

“They are quite large shoes to fill, but I think everyone here is up to the task,” said Solis. “Obviously, without Matusz and Romo there are some doubts. But not with us. I think we’re stronger than we were last year, and we’re excited to get out there.”

Blair, staying with the shoe analogy, wants to take it one step further.

“Not just fill the shoes, but make that shoe size a little bigger,” he said.”If Matusz wears an 11 1/2, hopefully, I’m going to wear a 12. . . . I don’t feel any pressure at all. You just go out and do your thing.”

The load won’t be shouldered entirely by Solis and Blair. Not with the return of two other talented sophomores — Matt Thomson and Darrin Campbell — as well as senior Matt Couch (recovering from Tommy John surgery) and All-American junior closer A.J. Griffin.

But all eyes will be on the Toreros’ No. 1 and No. 2 starters to watch their development. Hill and USD pitching coach Eric Valenzuela will do their best to mold Solis and Blair. But much of it is up to the players themselves.

“Michelangelo used to look at a slab of marble and see the sculpture inside it,” said Hill. “That’s how every kid is. They are that sculpture inside that marble and they’re very unique.

“We all get in trouble when we start comparing Kyle Blair to player X, or Sammy Solis to player Y. They’ve just got to be their own person and do their own thing.”


— The schedule is front-loaded with home games (31 of the first 40 are at the Toreros’ Cunningham Stadium), so a strong start is not only important it’s expected.

— Power will not be the offense’s strong suit, so the Toreros will have to showcase their speed. Shooting for the school record (105 SB in 1980) would be a good goal. CF Kevin Muno led the Toreros last season with 21 SB. Freshman LF Bryan Haar, who swiped 17 last season at Grossmont High, could challenge him this year.

— Junior closer A.J. Griffin, another Grossmont High alum, set a USD record with 14 saves last season. The All-American could see some starts as well this year, perhaps in midweek games or on Sundays when he hasn’t appeared in a weekend series.