Numbers indicate that Fresno State baseball coach Mike Batesole is rolling the dice from day 1 with his selection of a season-opening starter.
A year ago, Jimmy Lambert went 1-6 with a 6.55 ERA in 20 games, nine of those starts. Batters averaged .320 off the then-freshman.
But Batesole, in his 13th season with the Bulldogs, believes last year’s experience combined with offseason improvement just might have turned Lambert into a capable Friday night starter.
The 6-foot-2, 164-pound right-hander will be on the mound when Fresno State launches its season against UC Irvine at 6:35 p.m. Friday at Beiden Field. It is the first of a three-game series.
“Jimmy has just been throwing the ball well,” Batesole said. “He just keeps getting better and better. His numbers weren’t indicative of how he pitched last year. He really did throw the ball well. Now he’s a sophomore, been through it, and I expect him to be a real Friday guy.”
Lambert pitched last year against UC Irvine, a game that also was his first collegiate start. He held the Anteaters to one run and four hits in 52/3 innings but took the loss in a 1-0 ballgame that closed 2014’s opening series.
Fresno State will need steady, if not spectacular, front-line pitching to get out of its funk from the past two seasons and return to a conference championship level. From 2006-2012, the team won a league regular-season title, tournament crown or both.
But the Bulldogs have followed that by going 23-33 and 28-29. No team in the baseball program’s history has suffered three straight losing seasons.
Fresno State won’t exactly have an easy path, with 12 of its first 16 games against teams that reached last year’s NCAA Tournament, starting with a UC Irvine team that returns 20 letter winners. The Anteaters went 41-25 and advanced to the College World Series.
“What I’m interested in is getting ready for the Mountain West, and to do that, you’ve got to play the best,” Batesole said. “Teams that aren’t very good and end up 3-0 at the end of the weekend think they’ve got it figured out. And then you go into conference and you get exposed.
“The key is to get exposed early by good teams and hopefully you win a couple along the way. You’ve got to play the best teams so you know what you’re doing is real when you get into conference and you know what you’re doing.”
The Bulldogs expect to start 6-foot-4 junior Dylan Lee, a transfer from College of the Sequoias, on Saturday and 6-foot-7 senior Garrett Mundell on Sunday.
The left-handed Lee went 13-1 with a 2.34 ERA on the JC circuit last season. Mundell, drafted in the 18th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, elected to return for his final season after going 4-0 with a 1.58 ERA, primarily as a reliever, in 2014.
Mundell is one of five Bulldogs seniors. He’s one of just three players, including pitcher William Munro and outfielder Taylor Tempel, who were part of a conference championship team. They were all freshmen on the 2012 Bulldogs that finished 31-28 but advanced to the NCAA Stanford Regional.
“There’s guys out here with rings and a lot of guys here who don’t have one,” Lambert said. “We want one. We want to be part of the winning tradition. To do that, we’ve got to win a ring. I think we’re ready to do it.”