Trojans head north hoping to end skid

After an all-too-forgettable spring break, the USC baseball team looks to do just that and put a dreadful past week behind it as it begins a three-game series against Cal.

Learning curve · Freshman pitcher Brent Wheatley has posted an ERA of 4.08 and is allowing hitters to hit .329 against him this season. - Ani Kolangian | Daily Trojan

Learning curve · Freshman pitcher Brent Wheatley has posted an ERA of 4.08 and is allowing hitters to hit .329 against him this season. — Ani Kolangian | Daily Trojan

The Trojans went just 2-6 over the break, with wins against No. 16 Oregon and Washington, but dropped a pair to each of those schools, as well as No. 4 Louisville.

It’s hard to decide what ailed the Trojans (9-15, 2-4) more over that week: the mere 29 runs they scored — an average of 3.625 per game — or the 50 runs they allowed — an average of 6.25 per game. Though it’s unreasonable to expect a team to score seven runs to win a game, it’s equally problematic when a pitching staff is forced to hold opponents to just three runs in order to have a chance to win. Clearly, this puts the Trojans in a tough position.

As such, USC head coach Dan Hubbs said, after the team’s lone practice of the week Tuesday, that his team simply must put more runs across the plate.

“We need to hit with runners in scoring position,” Hubbs said. “We had plenty of opportunities with men in scoring position [last week], we just didn’t get the job done.”

USC hit barely .225 with runners in scoring position over break and hit into nine double plays — four in one game against Oregon. The Trojans have talked all season long about the need to be patient and not to press at the plate, but the results simply haven’t been there. Hubbs has said repeatedly that pitchers throw differently when there’s a runner in scoring position, but his hitters have yet to adjust.

“With men in scoring position we need to be able to handle multiple, different pitches,” Hubbs said. “We’re kind of in between pitches right now, and what I mean by that is the fastball is beating us and the off-speed has us out in front. We need to be able to square multiple pitches in order to be able to score runs.”

It can be hard not to press at the plate, however, when the Trojans are finding themselves the victims of big innings and spotty defense while in the field. Against Oregon, USC committed a downright laughable 10 errors over the weekend set. Things got a little better in the field against Louisville, but not on the mound, as the Trojans gave up a four and a six-run inning in their 13-6 loss on Tuesday.

Comparing the stats of the Trojans and the Bears (15-10, 4-2) shows that Hubbs is dead on in his assessment of USC’s struggles. As teams, their season statistics are almost identical. Their on-base and slugging percentages are nearly equal, and Cal has 222 hits on the season compared to USC’s 220. The Trojans actually have a higher batting average on the year.

But the difference comes in runs scored. Cal has scored 114 runs off of 107 RBI this year. USC has a mere 87 runs off 80 RBI. They both create the scoring opportunities, but, unlike the Trojans, the Bears capitalize. Just one player on USC has double-digit RBI in junior infielder James Roberts. Cal has three, led by first baseman Devon Rodriguez and preseason All-American catcher Andrew Knapp, both slugging close to .500 with an on-base percentage approaching .400. It will be imperative for the pitching staff to avoid mistakes when these two are at the plate.

Tonight’s 7 p.m. game will be the first-ever night game at Berkeley’s Evans Diamond. First pitch for Friday’s game is at 6 p.m.. The Saturday finale is at noon, which will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.