Devon Rodriguez should be counting down the days until the MLB draft in June. Instead, he’ll spend this summer in the batting cages, preparing for another season at Evans Diamond.
Rodriguez, who missed all of 2012 due to a knee injury, wasted no time blistering opposing pitchers to start the 2013 campaign. Heading into the March 28 series against USC, the first baseman stood among the Pac-12 leaders in batting average with a .351 mark.
Almost a month later, Rodriguez’s average has dropped all the way down to .278.
A lingering shoulder injury to the junior from Newhall, Calif., derailed his hot streak and forced him to leave the field to serve as the team’s designated hitter.
“It has to be,” said coach David Esquer when asked if Rodriguez’s shoulder is affecting his swing. “He won’t say it, but we’ve all seen him when he’s at full strength. He was swinging the bat fine.”
Rodriguez will continue to bat in his usual cleanup spot in the Bears’ three-game series at Washington this weekend. But if the shoulder problems persist and Rodriguez struggles for the remainder of the season, Cal’s offense may be in trouble.
Since the USC series and the ostensible onset of Rodriguez’s injury, the Bears (18-22, 7-11 Pac-12) have scored more than five runs just once in 12 games.
Without a full-strength Rodriguez protecting star catcher Andrew Knapp in the lineup and driving in runners, Cal’s offense loses a good chunk of its strength. Considering the starting pitching’s general inconsistency throughout the season (4.72 team ERA), a perpetually unhealthy Rodriguez might drag the Bears down to the dregs of the conference.
The results of this weekend’s series against the Huskies will be indicative of whether Cal’s destiny lies with the worst of the Pac-12. Washington also strives to avoid carrying that ignominious distinction, sitting at 10th place in the conference with a 13-26 overall record and a 5-10 record in conference.
The Huskies are struggling despite sporting a league-average pitching staff, which ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in ERA and sixth in strikeouts. That’s mostly because their offense hits just about as well as the Major League team playing miles south of their Seattle stadium; Washington’s .310 slugging percentage is by far the lowest mark in the entire league.
Strangely, the Huskies’ bats have been on a bit of a hot streak as of late; over the past five games, they have scored 32 runs and won four of those contests. Even more impressive, all four of those wins came against ranked competition in No. 5 Oregon State and No. 21 Gonzaga.
Middle-of-the-order mashers Andrew Ely, Jayce Ray and Michael Camporeale have contributed most of the damage, but Trevor Mitsui and Robert Pehl have each chipped in with multihit games of their own.
The Bears’ pitching staff hopes Washington’s recent run of success at the plate is more fluke than trend. If it is the latter, the health of Rodriguez’s shoulder might be Cal’s only hope of avoiding a descent to the bottom.