USC interim head coach Frank Cruz is a jokester.
Ask him what has caused the Trojan pitching staff’s recent dominance, and says it’s because he took over pitching coach duties. Ask him about junior right fielder Alex Sherrod, who is six for his last 12 with six RBIs, and he’ll tell you to ask the lefty why he can’t hit the ball to the opposite field.
“My last 10 at-bats or so, I’ve hit the ball within like three feet of the foul line,” Sherrod said with a smile. “All my hits have been right down the line; I’ve grounded out to the first baseman a bunch.”
Sherrod has spearheaded the Trojans’ (16-20, 6-6) recent run, during which they have won six-of-eight. Today, they look to keep that momentum alive, as they start a three game series at Washington.
The Huskies (11-23, 2-7) were picked to finish last in the Pac-10 coming into the season, and are currently tied for last in the conference. USC took two of three from Washington last year, but the Huskies have won four straight over the Trojans in Seattle, including a sweep two years ago.
“They always play well at home,” Cruz said. “That field up there is a bit of a different surface. It takes some getting used to.”
Though the outfield at Husky Ballpark is natural grass, the infield is made of FieldTurf. Only the mound and home plate area have actual dirt. Given the weather in Seattle, it cuts down on field maintenance, but it also makes for a slightly different game.
“It’s a little slower,” Cruz said. “You’ve really gotta spank the ball to hit it through that infield.”
The slow infield should help a Trojan pitching staff that has dominated the last two weekends.
Junior starter Andrew Triggs went seven strong innings two weeks ago against then-No. 11 Stanford, then dealt six and two-third innings of two-run ball last Friday against Oregon, striking out nine while walking just two.
“Triggs is looking a lot more confident,” Cruz said. “Hopefully he’s over that hump, because he was struggling earlier in the year.”
Triggs has been overshadowed, however, by the Trojans’ back-end starters. Junior righthander Austin Wood has thrown 14 and one-third innings in his last two starts, allowing just one run while recording 13 strikeouts and four walks.
But both Triggs and Wood have been outshined by the Trojans’ final starter, Logan Odom. The senior leads the starting rotation with a 2.80 ERA, good for third-best on the team. In his last four games, he’s posted a 1.71 ERA.
“We expect some good pitching on both sides this weekend,” Cruz said. “They’ve got this lefty they’ll throw on Thursday, and we haven’t hit lefties too well this year.”
Washington hasn’t hit well against lefties or righties as of late. In its last four Pac-10 games they’ve scored just seven runs, hitting just .195 in that stretch. Including their three and four run “outbursts” in their two Pac-10 wins over Oregon, the Huskies have scored just 20 runs in their nine conference games.