Oregon baseball is through 43 of its 55 regular season games. Yet, since the beginning of conference play back in March, head coach George Horton’s search for a consistent third starter in Oregon’s pitching rotation has come up empty.
Since March 17, four different Ducks have started the third game of a series, posting an earned run average of 24.78 over their seven starts.
“If you’re a college baseball coach, you’d like to have four quality starters,” Horton said. “But you look across the country at Sunday game scores — or third game of the series scores or even second game in a series scores — and you see that not everybody has that luxury.”
But as Oregon approaches arguably its most important stretch of the season, Horton hopes that his search for the missing piece to the puzzle that is his starting rotation is finally over.
Last Wednesday, Horton tapped Cole Stringer as the third starter in the Ducks’ pitching rotation for the foreseeable future.
Stringer, who already lost the job once, doesn’t plan on losing it again.
“After I got the job taken away from me, I really wanted it back so I stepped up my game,” Stringer said after his 5.2-inning, three-hit and one-run performance against Arizona State back on April 30 — his first after being named a starter again. “We haven’t been playing bad baseball. I think things haven’t been going our way.”
Stringer fell out of the rotation after Oregon dropped its final game of its series at Cal on March 19, where he allowed two runs in a four-inning loss. He hadn’t pitched poorly, but what followed was a stretch that Stringer probably wants to forget.
He threw an inning of relief against in the following series against Washington and allowed three earned runs in his one inning of work. A week later, he surrendered five earned runs in six innings of relief in Oregon’s 13-1 drubbing at the hands of Utah.
While Stringer’s numbers haven’t been all that impressive in relief, he’s been the most consistent third starter for the Ducks. It was his fight to get back in the rotation that finally forced Horton’s hand.
“He said, ‘Hey, look at me. I deserve to be back in there,’” Horton said. “He’ll be back in there this weekend and I think he’ll do everything in his power to not every lose that again.”
Pitching deep into games is still an issue for Stringer, though, and something that Horton wants him to work on moving forward.
“You have to show Cole confidence,” Horton said. “He’s got confidence but you don’t want to get him out of there too soon. You want to let him pitch as deep as he deserves to pitch in the game. So that’ll be the objective for him, is make sure we don’t pull him too soon.”
In his 13 appearances this season, Stringer threw for six innings or more only twice. Still, his 3.31 ERA is third-best on the team for pitchers who have started more than three games.
At this point, Stringer is Oregon’s best option as a third starter and barring a massive collapse, he will keep that role for the rest of the season.
He will need to be at his best if Oregon wants to escape the upcoming stretch — matchups against UCLA, USC and No. 1 Oregon State — with a chance at making the postseason.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris