In the battle of the bullpens Tuesday night at Dedeaux Field, USC was let down not by its pitching, but by its dormant bats in a 3-1 loss to UC Irvine.
All season long, the Trojan (11-17) bullpen has been the source of frustration and agony for head coach Dan Hubbs. His relievers have been inconsistent, unpredictable and generally representative of their youth. So it might have raised a few eyebrows when Hubbs deemed Tuesday’s matchup a “bullpen game.”
But while the ’pen came through for Hubbs, the Trojan bats did not.
Sophomore Nigel Nootbaar, the Trojans’ most reliable reliever for most of the season, started on the mound. He went three innings, surrendering three walks and hitting two batsmen, but escaped with only two runs allowed. Those two runs, however, proved to be all the Anteaters (17-8) needed.
“Nigel was pretty erratic,” Hubbs said. “And that’s disappointing, because we need him to be better.”
Both the Trojans and Anteaters finished with five hits apiece. Though Irvine only gave up two free base runners — one walk and one hit batsman — USC gifted nine free passes with six walks and three hit batters. And the Anteaters capitalized, as runners who reached via the walk scored two of their three runs.
“I felt like we gave them everything,” Hubbs said. “They did nothing offensively. So it’s disappointing to lose a game like that.”
After getting double-digit hits in their last four games, USC came away with just five against Irvine. Evan Brock went four complete innings for Irvine, allowing just three hits and one run. The Anteater bullpen came in strong behind him, tossing five full innings of shutout baseball to close the door on USC.
“I would have taken [three runs],” Hubbs said. “I thought we would have been able to do more against their bullpen day. We weren’t as competitive as I would have liked.”
The Trojans lapsed into some old habits that plagued them at the beginning of the year but looked to be dying until tonight. USC struck out seven times, which isn’t awful. What is awful is the amount of unproductive outs made.
“We had 11 ‘nothing’ fly ball outs,” Hubbs said. “That was 11 that just gave us no chance. Add the seven strikeouts, that’s 18 outs that we just handed them. We have to be better than that.”
Senior second baseman Adam Landecker went 0-for-3 against the Anteaters after going 7-for-12 with three RBIs over the weekend in Berkley.
“Games like this, you gotta piece things together,” Landecker said. “In a game that each team only has five hits, you gotta execute the small things.”
That lack of execution — the “nothing outs” that USC made tonight — is what seems to frustrate Hubbs most.
“We need to force teams have to make plays,” Hubbs said. “You just hit a ball straight up in the air, they don’t have to do much. Strike out and they don’t have to do anything. We have to be more competitive in those spots.”
The Trojans need to rebound quickly, as Mark Appel and the Stanford Cardinal come to Dedeaux Field beginning this Friday. Appel could be the first overall pick in this year’s MLB draft, and Hubbs said he expects more tight game this weekend.