Trent Woodward and Taylor Ward have alternated games working behind the plate to this point in the Fresno State Bulldogs' season -- with Woodward starting at catcher one day and Ward at designated hitter, then Ward at catcher the next day with Woodward at designated hitter.
It has been that way in all but one of the first eight games and at this early point in the season they have provided a jolt offensively at a premium defensive position, one reason coach Mike Batesole sees no reason to tinker with a formula that has worked so well.
Going into a weekend series against No. 18 Texas A&M that starts Friday at Beiden Field, the Bulldogs' catchers are hitting .406 (13 for 32) with six RBIs.
Woodward is batting .389 (7 for 18) with two RBIs and Ward .429 (6 for 14) with four RBIs. The results have been similar when they have been used at designated hitter, where they are 9 for 27 with 10 RBIs -- Woodward is 3 for 9 with four RBIs and Ward is 6 for 18 with six RBIs.
"We're very lucky that we have two front-line catchers," Batesole said. "I can't remember a year where we've had two guys that are exceptional defensively and can also offensively do it. It seems like usually you'll have one guy who can do both and a second backup guy who's either an offensive guy or very good defensively but not a very good offensive player.
"We're lucky that this year we have two guys that can do both. I don't see any reason as long as they're receiving and blocking and throwing as well as they are to go with just one guy, so we'll continue to alternate them and keep them fresh and maybe that's why they've swung the bat so well to this point -- they've had their rest and they're catching with fresh legs and they're hitting with fresh legs."
The 10 RBIs by the Bulldogs' designated hitters lead the team by position, the catchers are third with first base, occupied by sophomore Kevin Viers, in between with seven.
That production, as Batesole points out, has come while Woodward and Ward have worked with a pitching staff that has an ERA of 2.96. Neither has committed an error nor allowed a stolen base -- both have thrown out one runner attempting to steal.
But it does take some adjustment, said Ward, selected the Mountain West player of the week after hitting .389 with eight RBIs in five games including a three-game sweep of Nevada in the conference-opening series.
"On days that I catch, I go in with a different mindset," he said. "I'm going to catch and backup anything I can on defense and just be a leader out there. When I'm hitting, I'm more focused into the pitcher, the opposing pitcher than anything that we're really doing on defense."
But some days it just works out, and it has through eight games.
Matching up with A&M
Fresno State will start Jordan Brink (1-0, 0.61 ERA) against Daniel Mengden (1-1, 1.38) in the first game of the series, freshman Jimmy Lambert (0-1, 3.48) will go against Parker Ray (1-0, 2.31) in game 2 at 2:05 p.m. Saturday and Tim Borst (0-0, 3.86) is scheduled to go at 12:05 p.m. Sunday for the Bulldogs against Grayson Long (1-0, 0.00).
Mengden has limited batters to a .167 average (8 for 48), with 20 strikeouts in 13 innings. He has a victory against Northeastern and a 1-0 loss to Sacramento State.
"He's got an outstanding fastball and two outstanding breaking balls," Batesole said. "That's why he's likely to be a first-round draft pick."
Ward is looking forward to the challenge.
"It's going to be fun," he said. "I mean, it's always an adrenalin rush. Facing (Stanford ace Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 MLB first-year player draft) last year, it's exciting and I think that's how it's going to be when they come in."
Texas A&M -- ranked 23rd nationally by Baseball America and No 18 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association -- is 7-1 this season. They have yet to open Southeastern Conference play.
The Bulldogs are 6-2, including 3-0 in the Mountain West.
• The Bulldogs are 3-0 against Texas A&M all-time, the most recent victory coming in 1997 on the first day of the NCA Palo Alto Regional.
• Through eight games, the Aggies have scored four or more runs in an inning six times. In 62 games last season, they scored four or more in an inning just 11 times.
• Fresno State has allowed opposing batters to hit only .220 with 11 extra-base hits, all doubles. Its opponents have a slugging percentage of .261, lowest in the Mountain West.
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