Despite losing the weekend series to No. 9 Arizona State, the USC baseball team heads into an afternoon game at Loyola Marymount with a certain amount of good vibes partly thanks to junior left-hander Sean Silva.
Silva was named the Pac-12 pitcher of the week after allowing only one hit over six innings in his second-ever career start on Friday against ASU. Silva’s strong outing set up freshman right-hander Brent Wheatley to contribute three hitless innings in relief and led the Trojans to a 5-0 victory. The combined one-hitter is a feat that hasn’t been accomplished at USC since 1996.
“We’re going to need more of that from him,” USC head coach Dan Hubbs said about Silva’s start.
In fact, the Trojans are going to need more of that dominance in the clutch from another pitcher, but Hubbs doesn’t know who that will be yet.
Silva stepped in for the start to replace injured junior pitcher Bob Wheatley, and the resulting substitutions have left the midweek starter slot to be determined on a week-to-week basis. As of Monday afternoon, Hubbs still didn’t know who he was going to send to the mound against the Lions.
“If I had to guess right now I’d say [freshman Brooks] Kriske, but I don’t know yet,” Hubbs said. “I’m working on it.”
Kriske made his first start last month against Louisville and has a 3.31 ERA over just 16.1 innings of work, primarily out of the bullpen. Hubbs also tossed around Brent Wheatley’s name in consideration.
In any case, USC will be testing its luck on the dish Wednesday, and the rest of the team’s strategy similarly relies on a series of ifs.
“If we throw strikes and are able to mix and match, I think we’re going to be in good shape,” Hubbs said. “Sometimes you just don’t know how those Tuesdays are going to pan out.”
But uncertainty and hypotheticals don’t end there. The team is currently licking its wounds after starting pitchers who surrendered dreaded “big innings.”
Against Cal State Fullerton, the Trojans jumped ahead to an early 2-0 lead, only to give up six runs in the next inning in what would be a 6-4 loss. In the rubber match against the Sun Devils on Sunday, USC allowed a five-run second inning, ultimately losing 6-5. The effect that those two innings had on the outcomes of the games speaks for itself.
“If we limit that to one or two runs, we win the game both times,” Hubbs said.
In both “big-inning” games, the Trojans let the game slip away early but were able to fight back each time and cut the deficit to within a couple of runs. Even if it showcases the team’s resilience, those come-from-behind situations are ones Hubbs prefers to avoid, especially since most of them occur because of missed opportunities.
In compliance with the ongoing theme of the season, USC left runners stranded on third base with fewer than two outs multiple times in Sunday’s loss and were only able to plate one run on a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and no outs. For the time being, that clutch hit remains elusive.
“If we get that big hit instead of that sac fly, we win the game,” Hubbs said.
It’s not enough for the Trojans to say they can turn things around if everything goes right. The same could be said for any team. Instead, what USC needs is consistent performance.
And there’s reason for hope. Some young players are starting to step out of that “if” shadow and show that they have more than just the potential to do well.
Hubbs praised freshmen outfielders Timmy Robinson, who went 2-for-4 on Sunday and knocked in the team’s first run, and Turner Clouse for his competitive at-bats.
“We’re getting a lot of production out of younger players, guys we’re going to have back next year,” Hubbs said.
The keys for the game against LMU — and for the rest of the season for that matter — are to capitalize on their consistency and continue to repeat their successes.
The Trojans don’t know yet which pitcher they’ll be behind on the mound tomorrow but will take the field at 3 p.m. regardless.