With Cody Bradford out for the season with an injury and Hayden Kettler dealing with some shoulder soreness, the Baylor Bears held a casting call for the role of “Friday night ace.”
Paul Dickens nailed his audition.
Dickens produced the best outing of his young Baylor career, as the junior left-hander dialed up seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 win over Cal Poly on a mostly still, cool Friday night at Baylor Ballpark. Dickens, a transfer from Navarro College, tossed 101 pitches and displayed perhaps his best command in a BU uniform, as 60 pitches went for strikes. He gave up only one hit, while striking out five and walking two.
So, this Friday night gig is a pretty sweet one, eh, Mr. Dickens?
“It was fun. I enjoy it,” said Dickens, who improved to 2-1 on the year. “Really, just your goal as a pitcher is to get outs. Whether it’s Friday night, Saturday night or Sunday, you just have to get outs. It doesn’t change with the circumstances, your job stays the same. So I just kind of tried to treat it that way.”
Cal Poly ace Jared Zill (0-4) came into the game with some of the more impressive strikeout stats in the country, averaging almost 15 Ks per nine innings. The 6-foot-3 right-hander worked quickly and spotted his mid-90s fastball with precision in opening with three hitless frames. Plus, his changeup is a weapon that Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez even distinctly recalled from a meeting facing him during his days coaching at Pepperdine.
After Zill had gone one time through the Baylor lineup, the BU batters seemed to get a better read on him and make the adjustment. Starting off the fourth, Richard Cunningham worked a walk, giving the Bears’ their first baserunner since the first inning, when he struck out and then reached first when the ball squirted away from the catcher.
The next two hitters flied out, and it looked as though Shea Langeliers might follow when he spanked another fly toward right. However, Poly’s Elijah Greene misread the flight of the ball and got a late jump, and it sailed over his head for an RBI double. Andy Thomas followed by scorching a sizzler down the right-field line for another two-bagger, and Langeliers came around to score to make it 2-0.
“He’s their Friday guy, their best pitcher,” Langeliers said of Poly’s Zill. “So, the first time through the lineup, it’s kind of like, well, he beat us. You’ve got to see him a few times, and the second time around we got some things going in the fourth inning and got a couple of hits together.”
Rodriguez said he was pleased to see his hitters not fall into a pattern of taking the same approach to Zill each time in the box.
“We talked about a couple different things, took really good swings, and we were able to put the ball in play,” Rodriguez said. “Shea smashed a ball to right-center, into that wind, which was pretty impressive, and then Andy does a good job getting a double down the line, then we were able to scratch out a run later in the eighth, so that was really nice for our guys. But I was just really happy with the constant adjustments our guys were making at the plate.”
Baylor (12-4) took out an insurance policy by scoring a third run in a long bottom of the eighth that featured two pitching changes by the Mustangs (6-10). Davis Wendzel stroked a single, giving him a hit in 15 of the Bears’ 16 games on the season. Then Wendzel, who had stolen two bases in the sixth inning, showed off some more heads-up baserunning, as he zipped from first to third on a wild pitch to the backstop. Wendzel just never stopped running as he passed second, and made it to third safely despite a belly flop of a slide.
Wendzel eventually came in to score when Langeliers reached after Poly shortstop Dylan Doherty booted a ground ball for the first error of the game.
The Bears’ bullpen tied a bow on the win from there. Luke Boyd mostly sparked in the eighth. He gave up a double, but struck out the side to escape unscathed. The junior right-hander now has 22 strikeouts in 12 innings on the year.
“When we recruited him, there was something — the ball didn’t go straight, he had great spin rate, and for us that’s a really big deal,” Rodriguez said, referring to Boyd. “The fact that he could throw strikes and keep guys guessing, I was really happy with his development. The weird thing is you just don’t know when it’s going to click for him, and it seems like it’s done it.”
Kyle Hill closed things out with a perfect ninth inning for his third save of the year and second in the past two games.
But the big star of the night was Dickens, who agreed with the assessment that it was his best game in a Baylor uniform.
“I definitely felt good out there,” the pitcher said. “I felt like I was able to hit my spots more times than I didn’t. Whenever you come away making more pitches that you wanted to make than the ones you didn’t want to make, you can come out with a win. So thankfully I was able to do that.”
Baylor will continue the series at 3:05 p.m. Saturday. Jimmy Winston (1-0, 0.59 ERA) takes the bump for the Bears, and he’ll be opposed by Cal Poly righthander Bobby Ay (0-0, 5.06).