At some point soon, California pitching coach Mike Neu is going to have to resort to pulling fans in from the stands to start on Saturday nights, because once-lauded lefty Justin Jones continued his lost-in-the-wilderness run this Saturday night in Tucson, allowing four runs on six hits in the bottom of the first inning as the Bears fell 6-4 to No. 22 Arizona.
Jones has not gone more than 5.0 innings pitched in his last four starts, allowing a total of 25 hits and 11 earned runs in 14.2 innings of work.
Jones -- who took the loss to fall to 1-4 on the year and saw his ERA jump to 5.66 -- has been just one of a cadre of Cal veterans to go missing in recent weeks. 2011 Houston Regional hero Devon Rodriguez took an 0-for-5 collar and stranded three runners on base -- including a game-ending strikeout at the hands of Wildcats closer Mathew Troupe with two men in scoring position in the top of the ninth.
Over the past six games, Rodriguez has gone 3-for-26, with three RBI and 10 runners left on base, dropping his batting average to .301 after starting the season hitting .351.
On Saturday, cleanup hitter Andrew Knapp made matters worse, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, after coming into the game hitting 8-for-16 over his past five games.
The only hitters to record multi-hit days for the Bears were right fielder Jacob Wark (2-for-4), second baseman Brenden Farney (2-for-4) and true freshman left fielder Grant Diede (2-for-3, 2 RBI), as Cal matched the Wildcats (20-11, 5-6 in the Pac-12) hit-for-hit, with 11 base knocks.
After falling behind 4-0 thanks to Jones’s implosion, the Bears (16-15, 5-6) came back in the top of the second against starter James Farris, forcing him to throw 34 pitches while Cal got a double from Wark, an RBI single to left by sophomore third baseman Chris Paul and an infield single off Farris’s right foot by Diede to plate two runs and cut the deficit in half.
Sophomore lefty Chris Muse-Fisher then came on in the bottom of the second to stem the Arizona tide, but the Bears offense then sputtered to a halt, going down in order in the third, wasting a Wark leadoff single in the top of the fourth, then a two-out walk by new second-place hitter Farney in the top of the fifth and then seeing the 4-5-6 hitters go down in order in the sixth.
The Wildcats tallied single runs in the bottom of the third and the bottom of the fourth off of Muse-Fisher and righty Ryan Wertenberger, before the senior reliever bore down and retiring six of the next nine hitters he faced.
Cal rode that momentum to another two-run inning in the top of the seventh. After a leadoff single to left by designated hitter Nick Halamandaris, reliever Tyger Talley balked the big freshman over to second. Diede then finished off a seven-pitch at-bat against the freshman righty with an RBI single to left to get the Bears to within three. Singles by Mike Reuvekamp -- moved to the nine-hole in place of slap-hitting Brian Celsi -- and Farney loaded the bases for Rodriguez, who worked the count full against reliever Bill Augey before ramping a grounder off the mound and up the middle. Second baseman David Lopez picked the high chopper and tried to drag his foot across the bag to start a double play, but instead missed the base, allowing a run to score, while still getting Rodriguez at first. Knapp then struck out swinging, stranding two men in scoring position.
Cal went down in order in the top of the eighth, before starting a rare rally against lights-out closer Troupe, who came into the game 6-for-6 in save opportunities and a .139 batting average against.
After Diede went down swinging against Troupe’s blazing fastball, Reuvekamp took the first pitch he saw in the left knee and took first. Freshman Devin Pearson was then caught looking at a darting fastball at the knees, before Farney came up with a laced single to right to put men at first and third. With freshman Sean Peters running for Farney, the second pitch to Rodriguez skipped away from catcher Riley Moore, allowing Peters to scamper to second. Rodriguez then took a called strike on the outside corner and fouled Troupe’s big, looping curve back to stay alive, but then swung and missed on a fastball up to end the threat, and the game, assuring a series loss for the third straight conference weekend after freshman righty Ryan Mason was nickel-and-dimed by bleeding singles and small ball on Friday, resulting in a 10-0 loss.
Cal finishes the series against Arizona on Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPNU, before coming home for an eight-game homestand, starting with a three-game set against No. 5 Oregon on Friday at 6 p.m. at Evans Diamond.