USC looks to put an end to recent slide

The losses have begun to pile up, but nonetheless, USC has been competitive with some of the best teams in the country.

Each of the Trojans’ eight losses have come against perennially strong college baseball programs, including weekend sweeps by No. 6 Cal State Fullerton and No. 18 Rice.

Time for change · Junior first baseman Ricky Oropesa, pictured here during Sunday’s home 2-1 loss to Cal State Fullerton, will move from his traditional position to the outfield for Tuesday’s contest at UC Santa Barbara. - Carlo Acenas | Daily Trojan

Only one loss was by more than four runs and USC (3-8) has lost four games by a single run.

But barely losing to nationally ranked teams isn’t good enough for the Trojans and interim coach Frank Cruz.

“When you play or coach at USC, you plan on playing the best competition,” Cruz said. “But you don’t come to USC just to compete, you come to win.”

Against Fullerton, the Trojans struggled offensively, managing only eight hits in the series.

When the team heads to UC Santa Barbara (5-4) to take on the Gauchos at 2 p.m. today, Cruz plans to inject more offense into the lineup.

Preseason All-American first baseman Ricky Oropesa will move to the outfield, where the Trojans have been offensively challenged, outside of Alex Sherrod (.275, 2 HR, 7 RBI), through the first 11 games.

Outfielders sophomore Alex Glenn, senior Matt Hart and freshman Omar Cotto Lozada, who have combined for 21 starts, are each hitting below .200 creating a void in the lineup.

“It’s wide open right now,” Cruz said about the left field and centerfield positions. “We’re hoping someone steps in and can take over.”

With Oropesa in the outfield, junior Matt Foat will play first base with sophomore Adam Landecker manning the hot corner at third base.

Another change from USC’s first two weekday games will be on the mound.

Cruz said he is leaning toward starting Brandon Garcia (0-1, 12.00 ERA in three innings pitched) over junior Ben Mount (0-0, 1.08 ERA in eight and one-third innings pitched), who has started both of the Trojans’ Tuesday games this season.

Garcia, who has the third highest batting average (.280) among regular starters, will also serve as the team’s designated hitter, allowing him to stay in the lineup even after a relief pitcher takes his place on the mound.

Garcia, Mount and the rest of the pitching staff will be tasked with shutting down a UC Santa Barbara offense batting .295 and averaging six runs per game.

Leading the Gauchos is the outfield duo of seniors Ben Edelstein and Mark Haddow.

Edelstein bats leadoff and led the team with a .344 batting average last season. This season, he is batting .343 as he sets the table for the middle of the lineup, including Haddow batting cleanup. Haddow has a team best .375 average and .462 on base percentage. He also is second on the team in home runs and RBIs.

UC Santa Barbara will likely send right-hander Nick Loredo to the mound. Loredo leads the Gauchos’ starting pitchers with a 3.09 ERA. He has a 1-0 record and has struck out 14 batters in 11 and two-thirds innings pitched.

The Trojans’ hitters will have to make adjustments each time through the lineup as the Gauchos are expected to throw a number of relief pitchers today.

“I know the players have turned a lot around in terms of their work ethic and whole approach to the game,” Cruz said. “Now it’s about winning games.”

Cruz doesn’t want his team to just compete. He wants them to have fun.

“Any time you’re not winning games, it’s not fun,” Cruz said. “Winning is a lot of fun.”