It was a year of learning and adjustment for everyone who took the mound for Fresno State in 2013. Probably more so for Jordan Brink, who emerged from a young and inexperienced staff to be one of the best pitchers in the Mountain West Conference while also playing heavily in the field.
But they all have the pitching lines to prove it -- some not so good.
Still toward the end of the year there was an inkling that it had started to take. For Brink, Will Munro and Garrett Mundell, and for Blake Quinn, Tim Borst, Derick Velazquez and Jake Shull, who were in their first seasons pitching at the Division I level.
They righted themselves, or were close to it, and were able to stay there in stringing together credible, competitive innings.
Even with some rough starts mixed in, the team ERA went down by almost a full run over the final six weeks to 4.94 from 5.77.
That still is short of where coach Mike Batesole wants to see it. But all of that and one more significant adjustment with Brink -- who also played in left and at first, served as a designated hitter and got as many as five at-bats in games he also pitched -- now full-time on the mound could have Fresno State back on a winning track in its second season in the Mountain West Conference.
A 23-33 season in 2013 tied the program record for losses and ended a run of seven consecutive years with a regular-season or conference tournament championship.
"We haven't been able to pitch like we want to pitch since ... it's been since 2011 since we could really pitch," Batesole said. "We fought our way through it in 2012 and last year we couldn't. But so many of the freshmen the last two years have pitched in such big games and big innings and now that should work to our advantage. You look at our roster and there's only one senior and you go, 'Oh, boy.'
"But, no, that's not right. We're old in innings logged and at-bats because those guys, we have a lot of sophomores and juniors, but those guys have played and pitched a lot."
The Bulldogs went into last season with one pitcher that had worked at least 38 D-I innings -- left-hander Tyler Linehan. But this season they have six. A seventh, Shull, pitched 32 2-3. And all bring some level of past success into the year.
• Brink went 4-4 with an ERA of 3.92, limited opponents to a .231 average and had 65 strikeouts in 59 2-3 innings. A 1.26 WHIP was sixth best in the conference.
• Quinn was conference co-Freshman of the Year after going 3-3 with a 3.02 ERA in 50 2-3 innings and allowing batters to hit .226.
• Mundell was 1-5 with a 4.52 ERA, but allowed three hits and no earned runs over his final four games and nine innings. During the summer, he was Pitcher of the Year in the Alaska Baseball League, going 4-1 with an ERA of 0.63 in seven starts and 42 2-3 innings for the Anchorage Bucs.
• Velazquez (4-2, 4.40, 75 2-3 IP) had an ERA of 1.74 over his final five games and 20 2-3 innings.
• Borst, 3-2 with a 4.12 ERA, had a run of 26 1-3 innings in which he had an ERA of 2.73.
• Munro (2-4, 5.23) had a productive stretch late in the year in which he allowed two earned runs over four games and 7 2-3 innings.
• Shull, who tweaked his arm a couple of weeks ago and will work out of the bullpen while rebuilding arm strength at the start of the season, was solid out of the bullpen through 2013 while also posting a 2.19 ERA in three spot starts.
"We have a lot of guys with a lot of innings under their belts. It's going to be a nice feeling knowing that we have guys with experience and they've already been here and done most of this," said Brink, who will start Friday's opener at UC Irvine.
He hasn't swung a bat in the fall or in the spring.
That could make a significant difference for Brink, who gets his fastball to the plate in the mid- to high-90s and pounds the strike zone. In a complete-game victory over Air Force, the then-sophomore right-hander threw 83 of 114 pitches for strikes (72.8%) -- 33 of 43 in the final three innings.
"Last year, he was taking infield, he was hitting, and never really got a chance to fully get his legs under him once a week and empty the tank and that's what you have to do as a Friday night guy because, remember, the guy in the other dugout, that's what he's doing," Batesole said.
"Some of those bullets we were taking out of his arm, and out of his legs, he was running the bases, he was doing everything, now he can put all of that energy and all of that focus into being a starting pitcher and hopefully once we get a few weeks into this he'll be able to go deep into games."
And the Bulldogs know pitching can make a significant difference.
Fresno State had its best team ERA in a decade in 2011 -- 2.91. Target acquired.
"That was my freshman year," Brink said. "We had an unbelievable pitching staff, a lot of seniors and older guys. This year that's definitely a goal.Our plan in the fall was to have it under-2 and I think we finished with a 2.06 ERA. That's definitely good in the fall facing guys that see us practically every day.
"We have a few young guys, but young guys that already have been put in situations that they maybe would not have been this early and everyone is just geared up and ready to go."
Fresno State at UC Irvine
Friday-Sunday: At Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark
Radio: KFIG (AM 940)
Pitching probables: Game 1, 6:30 p.m. Friday, RH Andrew Morales vs. RH Jordan Brink; game 2, 1 p.m. Saturday, LH Elliot Surrey vs. RH Blake Quinn; game 3, 1 p.m. Sunday, tbd
All-time series: Fresno State leads 29-9; last meeting 2011, NCAA Los Angeles Regional, UC Irvine won 12-6; last meeting in Irvine, 2009, NCAA Irvine Regional, Anteaters won 4-2
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