A couple mechanical tweaks have paid off for Trevor Larnach.
During the offseason, the Oregon State outfielder and left-handed power hitter altered his hand placement and made a concerted effort to begin his swing with the lower body. The early returns speak for themselves.
Larnach went 8 for 12 with two doubles, three home runs and seven RBIs last weekend as the second-ranked Beavers opened the 2018 season with four straight victories. The junior also walked six times while slugging 1.583 with a .778 on-base percentage.
“I’ve been working pretty hard the past six months with some mechanical adjustments and mental training here and there,” said Larnach, who was named Pac-12 player of the week Tuesday afternoon. “As far as I’m concerned, I just need to stick with the approach.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound California native hit three total homers during his first two years in Corvallis. He needed just six at bats in 2018 to double that number, leaving the yard in victories over New Mexico, Gonzaga and Cal Poly.
Larnach was the first Beaver to homer in three consecutive games since Michael Conforto in 2013.
“It was impressive,” OSU coach Pat Casey said. “I think he is going to have a great year, but certainly what he did the first few games was phenomenal. He hit the ball with power, he walked and he did the things he needed to do.”
Larnach missed a large portion of his freshman year while recovering from a broken foot. He wound up hitting .157 (8 for 51) with three RBIs.
In his first complete season, Larnach started 58 games last spring and batted .303 with 16 doubles, three homers and 48 RBIs. The numbers were strong, but Larnach knew he was capable of much more.
Larnach’s hands now move away from his body as he loads, creating a swing that isn’t as steep. His raw power allows him to spray the ball to all fields.
“He’s worked really hard at it,” Casey said. “I think he always felt like he could do a better job with getting the swing started with the lower half. He has a really good eye and was maybe taking too many pitches early in his career. And then the experience of getting the at bats, last year was really his first full year and obviously those at bats were really valuable.”
Larnach has always demonstrated great knowledge of the strike zone, drawing 52 walks while striking out 71 times at OSU.
In every game this season, Larnach has hit in the four hole behind reigning Pac-12 player of the year Nick Madrigal. Opposing pitchers have to pick their poison.
“I’ve been expecting to get a lot of everything,” Larnach said. “I can’t really sit on anything, and I’ve just been looking for something I can do damage on.”
Offense on fire
Larnach wasn’t the only Beaver to find success at the plate during opening weekend.
After four games in Arizona, OSU is hitting .385 as a team with a .547 slugging percentage and .450 OBP.
“We swang the bats well,” Casey said. “You get into these tournaments and teams’ pitching gets a little short because you play four games in a row and you don’t want to extend guys, but we did a pretty good job. We got into some games where we got ahead and teams had to use the back end of their pen.”
Madrigal is batting .529 with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs while Adley Rutschman (.467), Michael Gretler (.400), Jack Anderson (.400) and Zak Taylor (.373) have also shined. The Beavers are 7 of 8 on stolen base attempts and have walked 17 times to 22 strikeouts.
Rutschman battles stiffness
Rutschman, OSU’s regular catcher as a freshman in 2017, started two games at designated hitter, one at first base and one behind the plate last weekend.
Casey said Rutschman is dealing with some shoulder and back stiffness.
“We just wanted to make sure that we let him work that out,” Casey said. “We’ll run him out there against Nebraska (on Thursday) and he should be ready to go.
“I think it’s a combo of we are being overly cautious and trying to manage that.”
Heimlich solid in debut
Luke Heimlich didn’t have his best stuff in Friday’s opener, allowing two runs on four hits with four strikeouts and a walk in six innings against New Mexico.
Heimlich, a senior left-hander, was the 2017 Pac-12 pitcher of the year.
“He would probably give himself an average grade,” Casey said. “I thought he made some really good pitches, and he also had some that he will have to get better at. I thought he left a couple balls up. The good thing is he only threw 84 pitches, and I think his legs got a little tired.”
Added Larnach: “That just shows you how good Luke can be. If he doesn’t have his stuff that day, he is still going to come out and compete. And when he does, he’s lights out.”
Chamberlain, Abel get their feet wet
Highly-touted freshmen arms Christian Chamberlain and Kevin Abel made their OSU debuts over the weekend.
Chamberlain, a lefty, tossed 3⅔ no-hit innings of relief with three strikeouts and two walks against New Mexico. Abel faced Cal Poly and gave up no runs on four hits with a strikeout in 1⅓.
Casey said Chamberlain reminds him of former OSU great Kevin Gunderson.
“He’s that little, long-arm guy that gets down on the mound and is competitive as heck,” Casey said. “He certainly resembles (Gunderson) a bit in the delivery and certainly has that same tenacity.”