Starting pitching leads Stanford to WSU sweep

3B/LF/P Piscotty

Stanford baseball executed the first third of the Pac-12 home stretch perfectly, sweeping away Washington State over the weekend at Sunken Diamond -- 3-2 on Friday, 8-3 Saturday, and 6-1 in the Sunday finale.

Most significantly, the Cardinal re-discovered starting pitching magic just a week after their staff seemed completely decimated. Mark Appel, Stephen Piscotty, and Brett Mooneyham each notched wins, marking the first time Stanford starters have recorded the victory in every game of a series since the team's February sweep over Texas.

"It seems that we haven't done that since Mark and I have been at Stanford," Mooneyham said after the game. "It was great to see all of us starters perform so well."

Mooneyham's Sunday performance was particularly encouraging. He tossed seven innings of five-hit shutout baseball to turn around recent struggles that hit bottom when he missed his last scheduled start at Oregon State. After the game, he told me that the key to righting the ship was a mechanical adjustment that involved seeing his home plate target sooner.

"I'd been getting a little too much counter-rotation turn towards second base and away from the plate, so I was picking up the target late with my eyes," Mooneyham explained. "Everything would just get off-line when I tried to focus on the target, so I tried to iron that out this week, and it paid off."

Solid pick-off work from the tall lefty also ensured that the Cougars, who entered Sunday's game having stolen a conference-leading 67 bases, were unable to wreak havoc with their speed. Of course, it also helps that Mooneyham's control was superb: he walked only one batter and allowed only six baserunners to reach all afternoon.

Stephen Piscotty's first career start a day earlier might have been more notable yet. On Saturday, the Cardinal RBI leader handcuffed Washington State throughout 6.1 stellar innings of one-run ball. He struck out three without walking a single batter.

The guess here is that Stanford coach Mark Marquess would prefer to have Piscotty pitch on Sundays, so that he doesn't have to trot him back out to the outfield with a tired arm and a game still remaining in a series. Marquess told me before Sunday's game that Piscotty's arm was fine to handle left field duties after his efficient 72-pitch Saturday outing, but Mooneyham's excellent performance suggests that he's ready to fit back into the Saturday role. Such a scenario is far more ideal, as it can prevent a lot of future lineup juggling headaches for the Stanford skipper.

As for the rest of the Cardinal's lineup shuffle, Alex Blandino continues to shine defensively at third base. He soared high into the air, like a basketball player at tip-off, to rob Derek Jones of extra bases Sunday. That's doubly good news considering the fact that former third baseman Piscotty is finding a true comfort zone in left field. His sensational diving catch in the eighth inning extinguished a Washington State rally.

Red-hot Danny Diekroeger started at second base in the final two games of the series after delivering Friday's pivotal hit, allowing freshman Dominic Jose to occupy the DH slot and belt his first career home run, a laser beam of a grand slam down the left field line. Jose follows Blandino's footsteps in becoming the latest freshman sensation in Stanford's veteran lineup.

"I've been really proud of how hard [Jose] has worked," Marquess said. "It's hard since he hasn't been playing much, but he really has earned his spot."

Consistently positive contributions from Danny Diekroeger and Jose left Tyler Gaffney as the odd man out Saturday and Sunday.

The University of San Francisco is next on the docket for Stanford at Sunken Diamond Tuesday. The team then heads to Utah for a three-game series against the conference's worst team. Since league-leading Oregon continues to win, it appears unlikely that Stanford can win the Pac-12 crown. A sweep in Salt Lake City, however, is mandatory for the Cardinal's hopes of earning a national seed and hosting a potential NCAA Super Regional.

"At this point, wins are huge," Marquess said. "Whenever you can take a game, you need to take advantage of it."


About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.


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