No. 13 Cal State Fullerton will be short-handed against Hawaii this weekend.
But with a starting rotation headlined by All-American Noe Ramirez, the Titans will still be one of the toughest opponents UH plays all season.
Who: No. 13 Cal State Fullerton (12-8)
The Rainbows (11-9) are riding a five-game winning streak into tonight’s series opener against Fullerton (12-8) at Les Murakami Stadium.
Earlier this week, the school announced eight players wouldn’t make the trip to Hawaii due to a violation of team rules, including star shortstop Richy Pedroza, who leads the team with a .383 average.
The Titans, who have a team-ERA of 2.86, will still bring a full complement of pitchers, headlined by Ramirez, who struck out 14 in a five-hit shutout of the ’Bows last season.
“You can say what you want about their situation with guys being suspended, but none of their stud pitchers are out,” Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. “So to me that doesn’t mean anything.”
The Rainbows are coming off a four-game sweep of Centenary College last weekend.
In an effort to improve the defense, which has the second-worst fielding percentage in the Western Athletic Conference, the Rainbows experimented with different infield combinations.
Junior Michael Blake started his first three games at first base and Kolten Wong played 11 innings at shortstop.
Neither Rainbow made an error and Blake contributed five hits and four RBIs at the plate.
“I’ve been working a lot at first base,” Blake said after Saturday’s win. “I felt good out there and was happy to be able to contribute to the team in the field instead of just at the plate.”
With Blake at first, Jeff Van Doornum moves into the designated hitter role, keeping David Peterson out of the lineup if he’s unable to catch.
Junior Garrett Champion made his Rainbows debut behind the plate last weekend and finished 6-for-11 with a double and a home run in three games.
The emergence of Champion allows Hawaii to keep Pi‘ikea Kitamura at third, giving UH its best defensive infield.
Cal State Fullerton, which has stolen 30 bases this season, will be a much bigger test for UH’s young catchers.
“They are as aggressive on the base paths as any team in the country,” Trapasso said. “Trust me, Garrett will be tested.”
Defense could the difference against a Fullerton team that gives up less than four runs a game. All four probable starters have an ERA of 3.10 or below.
Ramirez, rated as the 28th best collegiate prospect by Baseball America, is 3-2 with a 2.91 ERA and has 41 strikeouts in 34 innings.
The Rainbows will counter with Matt Sisto (1-2, 2.48), who was the only pitcher to record a win for Hawaii in a three-game series against the Titans last year.
Connor Little (2-0, 3.13), who skipped a start last weekend to rest his pitching arm, will start the first game of tomorrow‘s doubleheader, scheduled for seven innings.
“He told me he was OK yesterday when he threw,” Trapasso said. “We’ve got him penciled in (for tomorrow) and he’ll play a little catch (today), so we’ll see.”
Left-hander Jarrett Arakawa (1-1, 4.13) will start the nightcap, which will be a nine-inning game unless the first game goes longer than seven. Junior Jesse Moore (0-2, 4.10), who will also see time at short, is scheduled to start the finale on Monday.
Hawaii is 5-0 in games Moore has started at shortstop.