Trojan baseball begins three-game series at Rice

USC junior pitcher Andrew Triggs ended last season with a 2-7 record and an injury that sidelined him for nearly the final month of the season.

He will take the mound today at Rice University in Houston as the Trojans’ top starter.

Opening debut · In his season debut against Missouri, starting pitcher Andrew Triggs allowed three runs through four and two-thirds innings. - Daily Trojan file photo

“It’s a total 180 from where I really expected to be,” Triggs said. “I’m so pumped. It’s gonna be a blast.”

The Trojans (3-1) open up a three-game weekend series today against No. 22 Rice at 2:30 p.m. It’s just another typical weekend against a ranked team for the Trojans, whose schedule includes nine teams currently in the top 25.

Don’t be deceived by the Owls’ 2-3 record — two of those losses came last weekend to No. 8 Stanford. They lost to unranked Lamar on Tuesday and held off Texas State by one run Wednesday.

The Trojans certainly do not take those as a sign of weakness.

“They’re a good team, so they’re gonna be fired up,” Triggs said. “They’re gonna be ready to play. Don’t left records deceive you. It’s really early in the season, and they’re always one of those teams vying for a trip to Omaha.”

There is no doubt about the talent the Owl’s possess.

Rice infielder Anthony Rendon could easily be the first overall pick in this year’s MLB draft.

“We’re gonna have to play our best to beat them,” said USC coach Frank Cruz. “We’ll really have to be on top of it.”

As pitching goes, the Trojans have it pretty good. On the mound Saturday will be junior Austin Wood, the No. 22-ranked junior prospect in the nation and a former fourth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Senior Logan Odom will take the hill Sunday after keeping the Trojans in the game last Sunday against No. 24 North Carolina.

Cruz has a new goal for his pitching staff: three walks or less for the entire game.

“Pitchers throwing strikes and executing is big for us,” Cruz said. “Against Riverside [on Tuesday] we used nine pitchers, and eight of them were pretty good.”

Timely hitting is also something USC could improve upon, as well.

The Trojans have left a staggering 36 men on base in their first four games.

But Cruz has seen improvement, especially in “small ball,” moving runners up base-by-base, as opposed to waiting for the three-run homer.

“There was some execution [on Tuesday] that I really liked,” Cruz said. “[Our] situational hitting was good. Also, offensively, we had a higher number of base on balls than we did strikeouts yesterday. And we’re really trying to focus on that a lot right now.”

There will be pressure on the middle of the Trojans lineup, particularly preseason All-American junior first baseman Ricky Oropesa, to match Rendon and the heart of the Rice order.

Oropesa exemplified situational hitting with a bases-loaded double with two outs and the count full last Sunday against North Carolina to tie the game.

“[Rendon] and Ricky [Oropesa] are two of the top hitters in the country,” Cruz said. “It will be a good series to feature the two of them.”

Defense, meanwhile, is something the Trojans appear to have down. They have committed just one error in their four games so far.

Chalk that one up to freshman nerves, as the middle infield combination of freshman shortstop James Roberts and senior second baseman and captain Joe De Pinto is about as solid as they come.

“[De Pinto’s] given me a lot of pointers,” Roberts said. “As a freshman I’m not quite as consistent as seniors are, so he gets on me. He’s definitely improved my game.”

Regardless of the outcome of its trip to Houston, the team insists that it can only stand to gain from the experience.

“Early season road trips like this weather you take a series or come up short it’s good for cohesiveness,” Triggs said. “Instead of being around guys for four hours a day you’re around them for 24 hours a day. We already have good chemistry, but these kinds of trips only help. They’re a lot of fun.”