Baseball Hopes Hitting Will Heat Up

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Mike Tonis witnessed something very unusual Tuesday. He saw game-winning home run that lifted the Cal baseball team over No. 19 Fresno State.

While Curtis Johnson's blast may have eased the Bears' recent frustration - it halted their four-game losing streak - it certainly was a missing ingredient in Cal's recent lapse at the plate.

The ballclub will look for that type of reliable and productive offense down the stretch when they take on Washington State today at 2 p.m. at home in the first installment of a three-game Pac-10 series.

"We're lacking the clutch hits to win ball games," Tonis said. "We've pitched and played defense well lately, (but) consistency has been a problem, especially in hitting in consecutive games."

Simply put, the Bears (6-10) have been unable to generate any kind of hitting - or winning - streak after opening their 2000 campaign with a 3-0 mark. Prior to the 17-hit, 12-run performance against the Bulldogs, Cal went 21-for-126 for a .167 batting average during its four-game skid.

"(Fresno State) was a good win and we kept in the game," Tonis, who went 2-for-14 during that slump before going 2-for-6 Tuesday with a double and an RBI, said. "We're going to treat (today) as a new season. We need the team to get it going and to continue it this weekend."

v Teammate Xavier Nady, a hot commodity among professional baseball scouts who flock to witness his natural hitting ability, has been on a cold streak as of late.

Although opposing hurlers have avoided giving Nady hittable pitches, the third baseman has gone 2-for-14 in his last four games before eking out two hits in his seven plate appearances Tuesday. Nady is now third on the team with a .302 average, down from .357 five games ago.

Nevertheless, Tonis' "new season" disposition will be tested against the Cougars, a squad that has gone 2-5 in its last seven contests.

WSU (5-9) will rely on sophomore Stefan Bailie for production at the plate. Thus far, Bailie is atop the Cougars' chart with a .451 batting average. What's more impressive for the third baseman is that he is in the midst of a 14-game hitting streak, which began in WSU's opening game at Lewis-Clark State.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, preseason second-team All-America selection Jason Grove is listed as questionable for today's contest. Grove suffered a broken bone in his right hand during batting practice before the season opener. After undergoing surgery, the junior has a chance to make his debut against Cal some time this weekend.

Today's game will be the Bears' first conference game of the season in a league rated the toughest in the nation by Baseball America. But Cal coach David Esquer downplays this fact, and is more focused on developing his team into a potential playoff ballclub.

"Conference or nonconference, the players really have to concentrate on improving themselves," Esquer said. "More importantly, as the season goes, we're trying to find ourselves as a baseball team. We're (trying to establish a team) with the best chances of becoming a contender."

Trevor Hutchinson will start on the mound today for Cal. Seniors Brad Steele and Jon Shirley will start the second and third games, respectively.

In last week's series against Stanford, Hutchinson, Steele and Shirley did their job by keeping the Bears in the game. The three pitchers appear to be in good position to do the same this weekend against a weaker opponent.

The only question left to be answered is whether the hitting will show up for the second straight game.

"We're not putting it all together," Esquer said. "At times, the hitting and pitching will be good. It's all a matter of getting it all in sync."


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