Fresno State baseball coach Mike Batesole saw their impressive stats from summer ball.
He had watched his pitchers from afar during the fall.
But it wasn’t until he evaluated the Bulldogs’ arms from behind the plate in recent weeks that he fully appreciated how much they had improved.
I left there thinking: ‘This has got a chance to be pretty good.’
Fresno State baseball coach Mike Batesole upon watching up close a bullpen session of his Bulldogs pitchers
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“I sat there like I was a hitter and watched everything I could watch,” Batesole said. “I left there thinking: ‘This has got a chance to be pretty good.’ ”
Fresno State will count heavily on its pitching this season, perhaps more than ever under Batesole as the dean of Bulldogs coaches begins his 14th season.
The Bulldogs, who launched their season with the annual Double Play Dinner on Friday and Alumni Game on Saturday, open Friday against Creighton for a three-game series at Beiden Field.
Fresno State went 31-28 overall last season and 18-12 while finishing third in the Mountain West.
But armed with an experienced rotation and a stable of pitchers capable of throwing in the mid-90s, Fresno State seeks to capture its first Mountain West championship and return to the NCAA Tournament after a three-year absence.
If summer ball success is any indication, Fresno State’s pitching staff could be up to the challenge.
Fresno State left-hander Ricky Thomas went 9-0 with a 0.92 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 10 appearances for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox (Massachusetts) in the Cape Cod League.
Sophomore left-hander Ricky Thomas rocketed up major-league draft watch lists after going 9-0 with a 0.92 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 10 appearances for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox (Massachusetts) in the Cape Cod League.
He also threw six scoreless innings Saturday against an alumni team stacked with former all-conference selections, including Tommy Mendonca, Steve Susdorf and Jordan Luplow. The current Fresno State players won 12-1.
Thomas, 4-3 with a 3.92 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings for the Bulldogs last season, is 51st on the 2017 MLB draft prospect list of D1Baseball.com.
Fellow sophomore left-hander Anthony Arias struck out 38 in 27 1/3 innings with the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League. He was 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings for the Bulldogs.
Add junior right-handed ace Jimmy Lambert, who went 4-2 with a 4.66 ERA a year ago while serving as Fresno State’s Friday night starter, and the Bulldogs’ rotation could be as strong as its been since 2011, when they last won a regular-season conference title.
“Experience is huge,” Lambert said. “That’s why I think the whole pitching staff is going to be good. We all feel more confident, definitely. We all feel good about what we have.”
Batesole has been just as impressed with the bullpen, anchored by senior right-hander Tim Borst.
Right-hander Mark Reece and left-handers Dylan Lee and Brennon Williams also figure to be used in high-leverage situations.
You’re going to see some guys strike out some (hitters) this year, and that’s a whole different animal.
Fresno State coach Mike Batesole
“We’re going to run four to five guys out of the bullpen who are going to be in the mid-90s – we’ve never had anything like that before,” Batesole said. “The past couple of years, we’ve been having to rely on a bunch of ground balls. That means the ball is going to be hit and it’s got a chance to go through.
“But I think you’re going to see some guys strike out some (hitters) this year, and that’s a whole different animal.”
Fresno State must replace three-year starting catcher Taylor Ward, taken in the first round of last spring’s draft by the Los Angeles Angels.
Third baseman Manny Argomaniz, who signed with the Yankees, also is gone, as is outfielder Taylor Tempel, who led Fresno State with a .362 average.
But junior outfielder Austin Guibor returns, along with senior first baseman Kevin Viers.
Guibor had a team-best .440 on-base percentage while hitting .339 with five homers and 39 runs.
Viers tied Ward for the home run lead with seven while batting .257 with 34 RBIs.
Junior Joe Prior, who started 20 games at first base last year, will move to catcher. Prior hit .247 with 17 RBIs in 42 games overall.
Fresno State also has former Clovis West High star Scott Silva, who played at Gonzaga before spending two seasons and earning All-America honors at Fresno City.
“Offensively, we’ve got some questions,” Batesole said. “But defensively, we’re going to be really good. On the mound, we’re going to be really good.
“I don’t think we’re going to have to get to eight to nine runs to get the win. I think if we get to five or six, we’re going to have a really good chance. This team is definitely capable of doing that.”
Fresno State baseball key dates
- Friday: Season opener, 6:05 p.m. vs. Creighton at Beiden Field
- March 4: Mountain West opener at San Diego State
- March 11: Start of a three-game series at Texas A&M, which is No. 4 nationally in the D1Baseball.com preseason ranking
- May 21: Regular-season finale
- May 25: Mountain West Tournament in Albuquerque, N.M.
- June 18-29: College World Series in Omaha, Neb.