CORVALLIS — The Oregon State baseball team continues to rise in national polls.
The Beavers (14-1), who open Pac-12 play Thursday at Arizona State (9-7), are ranked No. 1 in the latest poll by Collegiate Baseball, which was released Monday morning. OSU is ranked second by D1Baseball.com and ESPN and fourth by Baseball America and Perfect Game.
It’s the first time OSU has been the No. 1 team in any poll since the 2014 season.
“We don’t really think about that as a team, we just focus on the next game and winning the next game,” junior KJ Harrison said. “It’s great to have things like that, but in the end they don’t mean anything and they don’t really mean anything to us.”
The Beavers have won nine straight entering conference play and outscored Ball State 20-5 to sweep last week’s four-game series.
For the season, OSU has a run differential of plus-61.
“Our guys have done some things well, they really have,” coach Pat Casey said. “The main thing they’ve done is win games when they really maybe haven’t played very well in certain situations. I think we talked about those and I think they’re well aware of what we need to do to beat better teams. And we have to do those. We are not a team that’s going to come out and put 10 runs on the board every game and be able to make some of the mistakes we’ve made. But with that being said, I’m really excited for them that in the first 15 games they’ve found a way to win, and that’s what it’s all about.”
In nearly every metric, Oregon State has been nothing short of outstanding on the mound.
The Beavers lead Division I in ERA (1.20) and WHIP (0.86), and have four shutouts. OSU has struck out 127 batters while walking just 30 in 135 innings.
“I think all that is just a reflection of doing things the right way,” pitching coach Nate Yeskie said. “To say that we are out ahead of somebody else, it’s kind of like running a race. Maybe by mile two or mile three you might be in the lead, but that doesn’t mean much until you get to the end. Right now we are just trying to keep our heads down and focus on the stuff we can control.”
The starting rotation of Luke Heimlich (3-0, 0.31 ERA), Jake Thompson (4-0, 1.38), Sam Tweedt (3-0, 2.14) and Bryce Fehmel (2-1, 2.37) has been sensational since opening week.
Freshman Jake Mulholland has thrown 15 1/3 innings of shutout relief while senior closer Max Engelbrekt hasn’t allowed a hit in 5 1/3.
“I look at our depth this year,” said Engelbrekt, who has four saves. “We have Fehmel, Luke, Sam and Jake, they have all been really good as starters. But then you look at the relievers, too, and they’ve been really good and we haven’t had to have guys come back on back-to-back days. We haven’t had people fatigued. … For me, last year at this point I think I had thrown about twice as many innings. So it’s nice to be fresh going into the Pac rather than feeling like I’ve been throwing a lot.”
Added Yeskie: “I told somebody in the fall that my best collection of just pure arms and pure talent was probably my first year (2009). We’ve had some dandies in between, don’t get me wrong, but I think this is the best depth that we’ve had.
“It might not really be something that dazzles people, but Andrew Moore didn’t dazzle anybody until he looked up and saw that he had 14 wins as a freshman. It takes time, but I do like across the board our mentality and our work ethic. It’s a real credit not only to the older guys that are here … but also a credit to the guys that came before them because they just continue to toe the line for what we try to establish every year.”
Madrigal on a tear
Sophomore infielder Nick Madrigal, last year’s Pac-12 freshman of the year, has terrorized opposing pitchers all season.
Madrigal leads the Beavers in batting average (.411), slugging percentage (.625), home runs (three), runs scored (16) and stolen bases (seven). He is tied with Christian Donahue for team lead in RBIs with 11.
“Oh my God, he’s so good,” Engelbrekt said of Madrigal. “He’s good at everything. He hits for home runs now. We played teams last year and they’d have their outfield play like 100 feet behind the second baseman, it’s crazy. He’s gotten so much better at everything. I think he’s got to be the most fun player I’ve ever seen. He’ll do weird stuff like he stole, on a hit and run, he just ran right past the shortstop just like a video game that you’d do on accident.”
Harrison, who hit 10 home runs in each of the past two seasons, is second on the team with two.
“I’m one of those players who doesn’t really think about my stats, but Nick’s been swinging the bat well and he’s going to continue to swing it well,” Harrison said. “It’s great to see him putting up numbers like that, power-wise as well. It just goes to show how great of a player he is and how much work he puts in.”
Cary returns to practice
Sophomore outfielder Elliott Cary returned to practice Monday after missing the last seven games.
Cary ran into a wall while making a catch against Ohio State on Feb. 26 and had been held out since.
“It was good, he looked good today,” Casey said. “The way he practiced today, I would assume he is going to be available (this week).”
Rasmussen on the right track
Sophomore right-hander Drew Rasmussen, who underwent Tommy John surgery nearly a year ago, continues to make progress with his rehab.
“Status quo with him,” Yeskie said. “He seems to be doing well. His bullpens that the doctor has laid out for him are coming along nicely. I just want to see him in here playing catch again tomorrow, and that’s about as far ahead as I get with him.”