Ask the University of Portland Pilots, and they’ll tell you: Christian Jones’ elbow and Jeff Gold’s ankle are both doing just fine.
Jones, making his first start since 2011, having missed the 2012 season due to undergoing Tommy John surgery, struck out five and allowed two hits in three scoreless innings. Gold, whose was hit in the ankle by a line drive in his previous start at Hawaii, threw four hitless innings and struck out seven, as the Oregon Ducks (7-1) beat the Portland Pilots (2-7) 3-1 Tuesday night in front of 1,144 at PK Park.
Though Gold said he felt no lingering effects, Jones reported some discomfort in his elbow while pitching in temperatures that dipped below 50 degrees.
“It was cold, and it was a little stiff tonight so I was kind of questioning (my elbow) a little bit, and I need to realize that it’s healthy and just let the ball go,” said Jones, who also said he felt better prepared as a starting pitcher, having made three relief appearances thus far in the 2013 season.
After Jones and Gold shut down Portland for seven innings, freshman left-hander Garret Cleavinger struck out two in an inning-plus of work before stepping aside for closer Jimmie Sherfy with one runner on base in the ninth inning. Sherfy yielded a single to third baseman Jeff Melby, then a one-out RBI double to center fielder Caleb Whalen, allowing the Pilots to bring the score to 3-1.
With runners on second and third base, Sherfy struck out catcher Ben Grubb to bring pinch hitter Beau Fraser to the plate. Fraser ripped a line drive to the left side, but Oregon third baseman Ryan Hambright reached out to snag it and end the game.
“Jimmie Sherfy’s slider is not quite as devastating as it was last year – still trying to get a feel for that,” said Oregon head coach George Horton. “He’s got a lot more command of his fastball at this point than he did last year. He’ll find his slider.”
The Ducks got on the board early, when Ryon Healy singled to left field in the first inning, plating Scott Heineman. Heineman scored again in the third inning, after being hit by pitch and advancing all the way to third base on a wild pitch. Brett Thomas roped a line drive to shallow left field, and Heineman beat out an off-balance throw by Portland left fielder Kramer Scott to stake the Ducks to a 2-0 lead.
Heineman, who was hit by pitch twice, drew a walk, and hit a sacrifice fly to score J.J. Altobelli in the fifth inning, went 0-0 on the night, but was an undeniable catalyst on a night when both teams struggled to find offense.
“I was just battling at the plate, having to get hit by a couple of pitches, got some good opportunities on the basepaths to do something,” said Heineman. “It was a hard-nosed night.”
The Ducks travel to southern California this weekend to take on Cal State Fullerton (8-0), in what is sure to be the Ducks’ toughest test yet this season.
“It’ll be a special series for a lot of different reasons, first and foremost, the tradition there. They’re extremely well-coached,” said Horton, who coached at Cal State Fullerton from 1997-2007, netting a College World Series championship in 2004. “It’ll be a good barometer for where we’re at, as far as the game of baseball.”