Though the game didn’t count toward the conference standings, Oregon’s effort was enough to raise alarm for head coach George Horton, who called the effort “confusing.”
“If that’s a battle effort, then I am worried,” Horton said.
Indeed, the Ducks were sluggish from start to finish as they looked more and more like the struggling 2011 team, and nothing like the team currently ranked in the top 10.
Joey Matthews and Michael Conforto both had multi-hit games for the Beavers, leading the way offensively, despite the fact that the Ducks did plenty to help their rival pull away early.
Ducks starter Jordan Spencer (2-2), who pitched a no-hitter last Tuesday against Portland, was unable to keep the Beavers off the board early, forcing the Ducks to turn to an already strained bullpen that struggled over the weekend against Washington State.
The left-hander was tagged for four earned runs and exited after giving up a RBI double to Tyler Smith with nobody out in the third inning. Reliever Billy Flamion couldn’t stop the hemorrhaging, gift-wrapping Oregon State more runs with three wild pitches. By the end of the third, Oregon trailed 6-0, despite giving up only four hits.
“You know, it ended up 7-1 but it seemed like it was 15-1 in my book because we got out-pitched, out-hit, out-defended and we weren’t very competitive today” Horton said.
From the beginning, the Ducks showed they were still in a funk offensively as four of the first five hitters looked at strike three. Beavers starter Taylor Starr (4-1), who had entered with only two previous starts on the season, had a career night against the Ducks, allowing only five hits and a run over seven innings.
“He was a good pitcher,” shortstop Kevin Shepherd said. “I think he kind of surprised us with his velocity and we just never got it going.”
Starr’s only mistake came in the bottom of the third inning, when a wild pitch allowed Ducks center fielder Connor Hofmann to score. But, Starr didn’t allow another runner past second base and retired eight of the last nine batters he faced, finishing with seven strikeouts.
Even with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, the Ducks couldn’t push a run across, as Ryon Healy snapped a 10-game hit streak by completing an 0-for-4 night with a fly out to right field to end the game. Since collapsing in the eighth inning against Washington State on Saturday, the Ducks have been outscored by opponents 23-7.
“I think it’s about time we rally together as an offense and a team to get back on the horse where we were,” third baseman Thomas Walker said.
While the Beavers seem to be moving upward — winners of nine of their last ten games — the Ducks suddenly find themselves at a crossroads. The Ducks responded from their only other three-game skid by winning 12-of-14 games, but with injuries mounting to starters and no guarantee of their returns by the time a three-game series with California starts on Friday night, there is concern that the team has lost some of its edge.
“Even when we’ve lost at full strength—or since the guys have gone down—we’ve had that competitive nature,” Horton said. “It hasn’t been pretty and we’ve had some things get away from us, but there was a competitiveness to it.”
Shortstop J.J. Altobelli (shoulder), right fielder Aaron Jones (ankle), third baseman Scott Heineman (foot), and outfielder Brett Thomas (concussion) are all on the shelf. Heineman is out for the season, and the rest are listed as day-to-day. However, Horton and Co. don’t want to use injuries as an excuse for the skid.
“I don’t know if it’s an experience thing and I don’t know if it’s a leadership thing on the field,” Walker said. “They’re in our dugout and they’re talking. Our guys that are replacing them are just as good and are going to compete and, you know, I have just as much confidence as they do when they play.”
The Ducks resume action against Cal on Friday night at 6 p.m.
GAME NOTES —
Attendance at PK Park was 2,091.
Horton mentioned that Altobelli would begin hitting off of a tee on Thursday after seeing a doctor on Monday. If he feels healthy, Horton said he could be eased back in on a limited capacity as soon as this weekend.
Once Thomas’ symptoms subside, he will be evaluated, according to Horton, before being cleared for action.
The Ducks left 11 men on base.
Aaron Payne’s single in the ninth inning pushed his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 16.