Oregon baseball features weekend rotation with unprecedented potential
Pitching has always been a staple of Oregon baseball.
There are currently 10 former Ducks pitching professionally, despite the program being around for seven years, after being reinstated in 2009.
Still, for one reason or the other, the Oregon baseball team’s starting rotation has regressed the last two years, resulting in the program’s worst two earned run averages since 2010. But that trend is likely to change this season, with the Ducks returning a healthy pitching staff full of talent and high expectations.
Junior starting pitcher Cole Irvin missed the entire 2014 season due to an injury that required Tommy John surgery the season before. In 2015, the same was true of Matt Krook. Both left-handers were some of Oregon’s best arms and proved irreplaceable.
Irvin was a unanimous freshman All-American in 2013, a season in which he won 12 games – a single-season program record – with a 2.48 ERA in 116.0 innings, the second-most in school history. His sophomore year was distracted, he says, by the MLB draft.
“That was my problem, focusing on the scouts and my draft,” Irvin said. “And that was selfish … There’s no ‘I’ guys this year, and that includes me.”
In the offseason, the Yorba Linda, California, native improved his changeup command and fastball velocity so that he can better “finish hitters” – which is to say, strike them out.
Oregon lost Krook to injury with two months remaining in the 2014 season — he didn’t play in 2015 because of it — but still the San Mateo, Calif. native earned Louisville Slugger freshman All-American recognition. Krook, a former No. 35 pick in the MLB draft, struck out 60 batters in 45.1 innings with a 1.79 ERA and 22 hits allowed his freshman season.
And there’s no doubting the ability of his arm to begin the season.
“I’m planning on going 100 percent right out of the gate,” Krook said. “Expectations are still very high for myself. I plan to get going right where I left off.”
David Peterson’s another left-handed starting pitcher, who developed a Friday night-type of arm during his freshman season. The Denver product set an Oregon freshman record with 81 strikeouts over 82.0 innings, while finishing the season with five straight quality starts.
“A rotation like this has been something we haven’t had,” first-year pitching coach Mitch Karraker said. “Three left-handers that have first- or second-round potential … It’s a pretty special staff.”
For Karraker, a former catcher at Oregon, the focus has turned from getting these aces healthy to getting them to their highest potential — potential that might prove to be the greatest since the program’s reinstatement.
“Like everybody’s talking about, the potential is unbelievable,” he said. “We’re really excited about what it could be. We still have a lot of work to do.”
Though the exact rotation of the three isn’t concrete, that holds little significance to the left-handers. Each are fighting to be the spade of the bunch.
“It’s definitely healthy competition of course,” Krook said. “We don’t bicker, we’re all friends and work hard for each other, for the team. We would all love to throw Friday, but I don’t think anyone is going to be super upset if they’re throwing Saturday or Sunday because we’re all Friday guys and we’re all good.”
Or as Peterson briefly put it,“The weekend is the weekend.
“Every game is important,” he said.
And they’ll be backed up by a bullpen packed with veterans, including preseason All-American closer Stephen Nogosek, and plenty of talented freshmen. After the offense saw a majority of its production graduate or get drafted a season ago, the consensus is that the team is looking to the starting rotation to lead them.
“Having those three lefties coming back all healthy this year is going to be tough to face if you’re the other team,” junior infielder Mark Karaviotis said. “I think those guys are really going to carry us where we need to go.”
Where they need to go was clear to Irvin. It’s somewhere Oregon baseball hasn’t been since it was resurrected.
“We’re going to Omaha,” Irvin said. “We have the best pitching staff in the country and we’re going to make a statement … Two or three runs is all we’re going to need. The hitters know it, so the pressure’s off them.”
If one asks Irvin, Peterson or Krook of the other’s stuff, words like “electric” and “sharp” are used. And now, days ahead of the 2016 season, they can also be described as “healthy.” It’s perhaps the most important world of them all in the Ducks’ route to the College World Series.
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