Stanford's 2-2 record to open the 2013 season won't turn any heads, but the young pitching staff's superb performance thus far certainly shines a positive light on the club's prospects. Following Tuesday's 5-0 home opening shutout over California, Cardinal arms have pitched 16.2 consecutive scoreless innings. Most impressively, centerpiece Mark Appel has not been a part of that streak. Instead, the credit goes to Logan James, Bobby Zarubin, Dean McArdle, David Schmidt, Marcus Brakeman, and Sam Lindquist.
Of those six, only McArdle and Lindquist are upperclassmen. James, Zarubin, and Brakeman are all freshmen, while Schmidt is a sophomore. And John Hochstatter, another second-year man, pitched well enough to set the Cardinal up for the Saturday win in Houston with even more shutout help from freshman Daniel Starwalt and redshirt junior Garrett Hughes.
The Farm Boys' bullpen has yet to give up a run in 18 innings of work. They've struck out 14 batters and walked only three, all while the team's freshman arms, deemed question marks at the beginning of the season, have endured only one run-scoring inning. That was James' first frame of work at Rice, from which he quickly bounced back to shut the Owls out the rest of the way.
In fact, Stanford's worst pitching performance has come from possibly the nation's best arm. Appel surrendered five runs (only two earned) in five innings to open the season, but there's little worry that he'll settle into dominant form. The rest of the staff was the true question mark, and those hurlers have acquitted themselves beautifully thus far. Through four games last season, the Cardinal had given up 20 runs. This year, Stanford pitching has allowed only 10 runs.
"I've been impressed," Stanford head coach Mark Marquess said. "[Pitching] coach [Rusty] Filter has done a good job with the staff. A lot of young guys have pitched. We're throwing the ball over the plate, and we're keeping the ball down for the most part."
The Cardinal's strengths have flipped in a year's time. In 2012, the offense exploded for 44 runs through the season's first four games. This year, Stanford is 35 runs short of that number: they've plated only nine through four contests.
After recording only one hit in Sunday's season finale at Rice, Stanford logged four knocks against one out in Tuesday's first inning to chase Cal starter Chris Muse-Fisher. This early offensive success was a welcome sight for a team that had struggled with the Owls' sharp breaking pitches over the weekend, hitting only .167 as a team in Houston.
"We really struggled with the bats at Rice. They attacked us really well," Marquess said. "They threw really good breaking balls, and early in the year, we really hadn't seen that breaking ball. But it was good for us."
Danny Diekroeger's quality at-bats have masterfully utilized the open hole on the right side of the infield, while freshman shortstop/centerfielder Drew Jackson, the team's fastest player, showed off his wheels in the leadoff spot by recording hits on a pair of rollers to the shortstop. Meanwhile, senior Justin Ringo, who tripled Tuesday, is off to a hot start after a rough 2012 season. He's hitting a team-best .364.
But the Cardinal lineup is far from permanently set, and there are several candidates for increased playing time and upgrades in the batting order. Sophomore Austin Slater recorded his first two career hits and first RBI Tuesday, while Lonnie Kauppila walked two more times as he continued to showcase his improved plate discipline. Kauppila is hitless through 11 plate appearances, but he still owns a team-leading .636 on-base percentage! Credit seven free passes in four games for the mark, a year after the shortstop walked only 10 times in 31 games. If this patience persists, expect Kauppila to hit near the top of the lineup more often than not.
Stanford must continue its search for offensive consistency and identity without its most feared bat. Marquess said slugger Austin Wilson, who strained his elbow in the season opener, "may be out a couple weeks." The right fielder, who dazzled with his power during intrasquads, is still fighting soreness in his elbow. Freshman Zach Hoffpauir played in Wilson's spot Tuesday, while sophomore Dominic Jose, who is looking to find his rhythm after starting the season 1-8, is another option, particularly if Ringo or Brian Guymon can hold down left field for the time being.
Speaking of the dual sport man Hoffpauir, a slew of Stanford football players and coaches came out to support their strong safety Tuesday. Ben Gardner, David Parry, Derek Mason, Lance Anderson, Tavita Pritchard, and Mike Sanford were all among the crew on hand to see the Cardinal beat Cal -- again.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!