Oregon State’s bullpen was putting up strong numbers before injuries took their toll on the pitching staff’s depth.
Those results have continued with the pressure to perform ramped up, helping the Beavers remain near the top of the Pac-12 baseball standings.
A season-ending injury to starter Kevin Abel and the uncertain status of reliever Mitchell Verburg following an apparent arm injury last weekend have added to the importance in effectiveness of those coming on in relief.
Verburg was expected to have an MRI and see a specialist this week, OSU coach Pat Bailey said.
“I think we’re all just taking the next-man-up mentality,” said sophomore left-hander Christian Chamberlain. “We’ve had a few guys go down this year, with Kevin going down and we don’t know what’s going on with (Verburg). Next guy up, I guess. Just going out there and throwing quality pitches, get outs. That’s your job.”
The Beavers (31-11-1, 17-4) have been able to lean on their bullpen, which has a combined 15-5 record and 1.78 earned-run average. Four players have combined to convert 10 of 11 save opportunities.
The relievers’ success has helped Oregon State to the second-best ERA in the country at 2.92. The Beavers are sixth in hits per game at 7.06.
Verburg, a right-handed sophomore, would be a big loss if he’s unable to return. His season, with a 1-0 record and 1.40 ERA in 16 appearances, includes a stretch of allowing one earned run in the previous 11 ⅔ innings before leaving last Saturday’s game against Washington State.
His 5.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best on a staff that has a 2.5 ratio for the season. Verburg has two saves, and opposing batters are hitting just .165 against him.
“I don’t think the other guys feel pressure. It’s just kind of the next-man-up type mentality,” Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman said, echoing Chamberlain’s thoughts. “Definitely prayers going out for a lot of guys on the staff right now. I think it’s just another opportunity for the younger guys to get relief.”
Chamberlain (3-3, 3.71), Verburg and true freshman righty Jake Pfennigs (1-1, 5.40) are the first- or second-year players who have seen the most time out of the pen.
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Junior lefty Jake Mulholland (3-1, 1.57, team-best five saves) and senior righty Dylan Pearce (1-2, 1.87) are close behind Chamberlain in innings played and have proven to be tough to score on this season.
“I think that they’ve done a really good job overall of throwing strikes,” Bailey said of his relievers as a whole. “That’s the key to pitching, throwing quality pitches early and then getting them out with pitches on the edge late.”
Rutschman, a junior spending most of his time defensively at catcher, knows the pitching staff as well as anyone in the program next to pitching coach Nate Yeskie.
Rutschman credits Yeskie with calling pitching and matching up his players’ strengths against the opponents.
“Guys who come out of the ‘pen, they come out and they know what their strengths are and they’re able to locate their fastball and work their off-speed pitches off of that,” he said.
Bailey said he hopes to have junior shortstop Beau Philip available for this weekend’s three-game nonconference series against Oklahoma State (25-16) at Goss Stadium.
Philip, who started the season’s first 31 games at short and is batting .306, has missed the last 12 games while recovering from a hamstring injury.
He fielded ground balls last Sunday then did the same and some running before Tuesday’s home loss to Gonzaga.
“He’s getting close,” Bailey said.
Andy Armstrong has started 10 of the games Philip has missed, dating back to the mid-April series at Arizona State. Jake Dukart has started the other two.