USC: Chad Kreuter

Where are they now: Lucas Duda

July, 5, 2011
7/05/11
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Lucas DudaJohn Williamson/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesFormer USC first baseman Lucas Duda is in L.A. this week with his big-league ballclub, the New York Mets. Duda, 25, is finally starting to heat up in the Mets' lineup, with hits in six of his last seven games.
Lucas Duda was a big, strong, slugging first baseman/outfielder in three years at USC from 2005-2007, helping to bridge the gap between Mike Gillespie and Chad Kreuter with the Trojans.

He kept the power up in parts of four minor-league seasons in the New York Mets organization after being drafted in the seventh round in 2007. But, in two stints up at the big-league level last September and this summer, Duda has struggled to put up the power numbers so far. He hasn't hit a dinger yet in 30 games this season and, with all of his major-league at-bats to date, would only be on pace to hit 13 or 14 homers in a full season.

Is the power coming?

Maybe so. After getting a pep talk from former USC (and New York Mets) pitcher Tom Seaver, Duda had his best game yet as a pro two weekends ago in Texas, tying a New York franchise record with three doubles on a 4-for-5, four-RBI day. He's been picking up regular at-bats of late in the absence of the injured David Wright, but Wright's scheduled to come off the disabled list later this week, so Duda's essentially fighting for his temporary major-league life this week in a West Coast road trip against the Dodgers and Giants.

In a weekly USC Report feature, we take a look at Duda's collegiate career, his pro resume thus far and what's to come from the 25-year-old left-handed hitter:

College

Duda, listed at 6-5, 240-pounds in college, arrived at USC in the fall of 2004 a touted prospect from nearby Riverside, where he starred at Arlington High and won CIF-SS Division I Player of the Year honors as a senior. He missed almost half of his freshman season with the Trojans because of a wrist injury, but rebounded to approach a .300 average as a sophomore and then lead the team in homers as a junior in 2007.

That year, Duda hit .280 with seven homers and 34 RBI, coming in second in the team in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He started 51 games at left field, a departure from his previous years spent at first base. The team's season was deemed a disappointment, as the Trojans failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in Kreuter's first season at the helm, but Duda was the team's top draft pick that June.

Pro

Duda signed right away and took an immediate liking to the minor leagues, hitting .299 with a .398 on-base percentage in 234 at-bats that year with the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets' Short Season A affiliate. He then spent all of 2008 in High-A Port St. Lucie, where he hit .263 with a .358 on-base percentage and 11 home runs, and all of 2009 in Double-A Binghamton, where he hit .281 with a .380 on-base percentage and nine home runs.

The power emerged for him in 2010, when he shuffled between Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo from May-August and combined to hit 23 home runs in just 487 at-bats, which earned him that September call-up to New York.

Starting most of the remaining games on the Mets' schedule, Duda struggled some, hitting just .202 with a .261 on-base percentage, by far his worst marks as a pro. But, after another poor performance in the majors at the start of the season, he went back to tearing the cover off the ball in Buffalo this spring and earned another call-up to New York.

Future

Until that four-hit game in Texas late last month, Duda was hitting a miserable .173 on the year with a horrific .462 OPS. Now his numbers are starting to creep back up into respectable territory, as he's gone 10-for-27 (.370) in his last seven games to raise his average to .241.

He stands to likely go back down to Triple-A when Wright's brought back later this week, but Duda's made a positive impression on manager Terry Collins and the streaking Mets in recent weeks. It doesn't look he'll be sequestered in upstate New York for any sort of extended period of time, especially if he continues his hot streak this week in L.A. and San Francisco.

Baseball: 2011 season preview

February, 16, 2011
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Courtesy USC Athletics
USC's top hitter, junior infielder Ricky Oropesa, hit .353 with 20 homers and 67 RBIs last season, but those numbers will be hard to surpass in 2011 with college baseball's new wood-like bats.

These Trojans are top-heavy.

It's Ricky Oropesa, Austin Wood, Andrew Triggs and everybody else this year for USC baseball, and interim head coach Frank Cruz doesn't seem too worried about it.

Oropesa (.353, 20 HR, 67 RBIs in 2010) is a big-bopping lefty, the newcomer Wood a hard-throwing righty and Triggs (2-7, 3.95 ERA) a smart sinker-baller. Together, the three Trojans are three of Baseball America's Top 100 college prospects. Together, they represent the hope for this year's USC baseball squad.

Oropesa, a junior, will start the season hitting third in the lineup and manning the hot corner for USC. Triggs will be the Friday night starter and Wood will start on Saturdays.

Behind the top trio, the lineup assembles this way: left fielder Matt Hart (.267, 0 HR, 12 RBIs) will likely lead off against right-handers, with right fielder Alex Glenn (.193, 2 HR, 12 RBIs) taking the top stop against lefties. Freshman James Roberts will start at shortstop and could hit second. With Oropesa essentially entrenched in the third spot, Matt Foat (.275, 5 HR, 33 RBIs) will play first and hit fourth, Alex Sherrod (.315, 6 HR, 28 RBIs) will play center field and hit fifth and second baseman Joe De Pinto (.286, 2 HR, 23 RBIs) will hit sixth. The bottom third of the lineup will be filled out by catcher Kevin Roundtree (.288, 1 HR, 23 RBIs), the designated hitter -- oftentimes senior Mike Greco (.133 in 15 at-bats) or junior Brandon Garcia (.182 in 22 at-bats), Cruz said -- and whichever corner outfielder doesn't lead off.

The coach also said he expected junior Garret Houts (.288, 3 HR, 9 RBIs) to play some left field, likely against lefties, and smooth-fielding sophomore Adam Landecker (.265, 1 HR, 15 RBIs) to be the utility infielder.

There are some inherent problems with that lineup. First, Hart and Glenn recorded the two-worst on-base percentages of any Trojan with more than 40 at-bats last season and will be leading off; Foat and Sherrod combined to hit only 11 homers, numbers you expect out of one four or five hitter in the Pac-10, not both; USC also doesn't have anything close to a true DH, as the two primary candidates at the spot combined to total six hits last season.

And there's still no protection for Oropesa. But Cruz reasons that the rest of college baseball will also be struggling to produce power this season and USC's lack of pop thus won't be as noticeable as in past years.

(Read full post)

Baseball: Trojans keep one signee, lose one

August, 16, 2010
8/16/10
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In one week on the job, interim USC baseball coach Frank Cruz has already done what former coach Chad Kreuter often failed to do in four years: get top signees to forgo professional contracts and enroll in school.

Cruz, a volunteer assistant for the Trojans for the last two years, lost one big signee early Monday. But as the 9 p.m. PST deadline neared, Cruz secured the comitment of a top prospect Monday and got another highly-regarded player to return to school.

Junior-college right-hander Austin Wood, a fourth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays, did not sign with the organization. He will fly to Los Angeles on Wednesday and begin attending classes on Monday. Redshirt junior Andrew Triggs, who was selected in the 24th round by the Cleveland Indians, also did not sign and will return to school on Wednesday -- where he has two years of eligibility left.

Cruz called Triggs a "hidden gem." Combined with Wood, the two could make for a fairly formidable Friday and Saturday night duo come the start of the season in February.

"We’re not happy about it, we’re elated about it," Cruz said by phone late Monday night, just after the 9 p.m. PST deadline passed. "That’s something the program’s been working on for a long time, getting these kind of high-profile guys to come to school.

"We did it today."

Wood, a hard-throwing 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, was the the surprise of the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, posting a 0.74 ERA in 36 1/3 innings. Late Monday, the Rays offered him a contract at well-above the major-league recommended level for his selection, only to have the pitcher counter-offer for a significantly higher figure, according to Cruz.

Talks broke off at that point late Monday.

Outfielder Joc Pederson, profiled here, agreed to a deal worth $600,000 earlier in the day with the Dodgers. He had told teams he would require $1 million to forgo his college career at USC, but he seemed to become less enthused about the possibility of going to school when Kreuter was fired last week. Pederson said then that it was "frustrating" to find out about the coaching switch.

"I think he made the best decision for himself," Cruz said. "The Dodgers did a great job getting him to sign."

In four years as the head coach, Kreuter signed perhaps more top prospects than any other coach in the nation, but those players frequently ended up signing with professional teams and never coming to school -- like Mike Moustakas, of the Royals' organization, and Tim Beckham, a Rays' minor-leaguer.

The retention of Wood makes for a fairly big step, although Kreuter had been counting on Pederson to step right into the center field for the Trojans and hit in the top third of the order.

The other four USC signees who were selected -- including Puerto Rican outfielder Omar Cotto-Lozada, a 12th-round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays -- are expected to begin attending classes Monday.

Notes on Chad Kreuter's firing

August, 9, 2010
8/09/10
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Today's firing of Chad Kreuter by new USC athletic director Pat Haden means a great deal for the future of the Trojans' baseball program. Let's dissect it a bit:
  • For one, it quickly proves that Haden's emphasis on baseball that was present in his letter to the Trojan Family was not just for show. He immediately set out to change what he was not happy with.
  • Second, it means that this year's recruiting class will likely suffer. A number of Trojan signees were drafted in June's MLB draft -- they have until next Monday, Aug. 16, to decide whether to sign with the organizations that drafted them or enroll at USC for the fall semester. Even though the season doesn't start until February, it's essentially the same situation as firing a football or basketball coach at this time of the year, because all recruits have to start school two weeks from today. "It's frustrating," outfielder Joc Pederson said Monday evening. "Coach Kreuter was a great guy and I was really looking forward to playing for him. He has so much baseball knowledge -- he could have taught me a lot." Pederson, an 11th-round selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was often touted by Kreuter as an immediate starter in the Trojans' outfield. He said all he received from Kreuter was a text message earlier today saying he had been let go. The other prize prospect of the 2010 class -- right-hander Austin Wood, a fourth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays -- lit up the Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer to the tune of a sub-1.00 ERA. It will be tough to lure in a player of his magnitude with no guarantee of who will be coaching him past this season.
  • Despite Kreuter's public persona as a bit of a fiery character, he tended to take on a calm tone with his team, often leaving the flair and dramatics to assistant Frank Cruz over the last two years. With Cruz now the interim coach, Haden has essentially chosen a risk-reward type to be his next coach -- albeit while not making any sort of long-term commitment to him. But Cruz, who spent 12 seasons as the head man at Loyola Marymount, hasn't had much success either. His career winning percentage checks in at .480; Kreuter's was .487 with the Trojans.
  • And, lastly, it has a sizable effect on the Trojans' cleanup hitter for much of last season. That hitter? 19-year-old Cade Kreuter, a sophomore-to-be. The younger Kreuter hit .283 with eight homers and 24 RBI in 2009. He underwent shoulder surgery this offseason to fix a torn labrum that forced him to play designated hitter throughout the season. It will be interesting to see if he stays at USC.

One-on-one with Joc Pederson

August, 2, 2010
8/02/10
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Outfielder Joc Pederson, an 11th-round selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers, has a big decision to make.

Pederson, who signed a letter of intent to attend USC in the fall and play baseball there next spring, must decide whether to attend college for at least the next three years and postpone a professional career -- or sign for a hefty amount of money (think high six figures) and immediately head to the not-so-glamorous life of rookie ball, beginning his trek up to the majors.

And he has to decide in the next two weeks. The deadline for draft selections to sign with the teams that drafted them is at 9 p.m. PST on Aug. 16.

In the meantime, Pederson is finishing up a summer spent in Hawaii, playing for the Waimea Waves of the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League and leading his team in on-base percentage and hits. The Waves (playoff run will end by Thursday, after which Pederson will head home to Palo Alto, Calif., bunker down and make his decision.


Here's a recent phone interview with the highly-touted outfielder, who USC baseball coach Chad Kreuter calls "an impact player in the Pac-10 immediately:"

Pedro Moura: So, to sum it up, what’s this whole decision-making process like? How are you deciding when you’re away from your parents for the summer and all?

Joc Pederson: Well, we talked about it before I came out, a lot before the draft even happened, and we made up a number that we thought was enough – like life-changing money, you know – and if they gave us the number then I was gonna sign and if they didn’t give us the number then I was just gonna go to USC. Either they were gonna give me the money or they weren’t.

PM: Is it nerve-wracking at all, to know that in a couple weeks you’re going to have to make a decision that will determine a lot of your future in baseball?

JP: I’m not really nervous. I’m excited for both things. If I go to pro ball I’d be really happy but if I go to USC I’d still be really excited to go to college.

PM: Have you gone back and forth at all? Are there some days when you wake up and say ‘I’m going to college,’ and some days you say, ‘I’m taking the money?’

JP: Yeah, definitely. Some days I think, ‘OK, I want to go meet a lot of new people and hang out and have a good time, but then some days it’s like ‘I don’t want to go through all the homework and write essays and I just want to play baseball every day. They both have their pros and cons.

PM: What about your parents’ stances on the topic? Obviously your dad, Stu Pederson, who went to USC and went on the majors for a season, is qualified to advise you on this.

JC: My dad is more pro ball, my mom is more college. And yeah, he wants me to do what makes me happy. He says that either way it’s going to be a grind. At SC, you’re gonna be there late, training and hating stuff in the fall, before the season starts. But he says that, yeah, pro ball is hard, but if your dream is to play in the major leagues then percentages say that the majority of position players in the major leagues signed out of high school.

PM: Does the fact that the USC baseball program – historically one of the top programs in the nation – has struggled in recent years under Chad Kreuter play any role in your decision?

JP: A little bit. But I really like Coach Kreuter and the style that he coaches. One of the reasons that I like it there is it’s more about pro ball. Coach Kreuter was in the majors for so long and he knows exactly how it is. It’s hard making the decision because I want to go play for this coach but I also know that if we don’t win this next year that he could be gone.

PM: Quick question -- is there a thought that the baseball system is a lot harder for the players than other sports, making them choose between going straight to the pros or spending three years in college?

JP: Yeah, if it was like college basketball where you could go for one year and then sign, it’d make the decisions a lot easier.

PM: Now, some expected Kreuter to lose his job after USC finished under .500 in 2010, but he was kept on and has since said he has very high expectations for the 2011 squad. Have you talked to Kreuter about whether he feels he has long-term security in his job?

JP: I called him and I talked to him and he said that he had a meeting with the athletic director like a day before I called and he didn’t say anything about it, but then they just got a new athletic director. That could also be good because I don’t think a new athletic director (Pat Haden) is going to come in firing people.

PM: So, how’s Hawaii? What’s it like? Do you feel like you're getting better?


JP: I like it a lot here. It’s relaxing, and I’m not around the people at home that ask me for updates like every day. It’s nice to be out here, and it’s also nice because I’m playing on my own and I have to make my own adjustments. Usually my dad’s at the games and he tells me but now I have to remember what he used to tell me and make my own adjustments.

PM: Going back to USC quickly – what do you think are some realistic expectations for the baseball team next year? Assuming everything goes right, could the Trojans make the postseason? Is Omaha a possibility?

JP: Yeah, I think so. I mean, they talk about this Austin Wood guy like he’s the real deal, so if I go to school, I hope he goes to school. It’d be exciting. And if Andrew Triggs comes back, that’s basically two Friday-quality guys on Friday and Saturday, giving you a great chance to win series.

PM: Kreuter, in the last couple of years, has signed guys like Tim Beckham, Mike Moustakas -- quite a few big-time players, eventual first- or second-rounders, that would’ve had a big impact on the squad had they come to school. Was that something he alluded to when he was recruiting you? Do you feel like the USC coaching staff understands that a certain amount of money may be too much to pass up for some people?

JP: Yeah, they asked me what it would take me to sign before I signed with ‘SC. They don’t want you to sign for less than your number. They said that if they pay your number, we’re happy for you, but if you sign for something less, then that’s messed up.

USC gets passing grades in Academic Progress Rate report

June, 9, 2010
6/09/10
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All USC sports stayed away from potential penalties in the NCAA's annual Academic Progress Rate report, released today for the 2008-2009 academic year.

The report measures four full academic years, dating to 2005-2006.

In football, the Trojans earned a multiyear score of 965, third in the Pac-10 conference behind Stanford and Cal. In basketball, the Trojans' four-year APR is still a lowly 924 — under the line the NCAA sets for imposing penalties — but the hoops program escaped punishment because of a 980 score in 2008-2009, showing an upward trend from previous years.

Possible punishments can include a loss of scholarships, but the NCAA typically exercises that power only in drastic circumstances.

In terms of APR, USC's best sport was women's golf, with a perfect score of 1000 — although that number will decline in the years to come with the departure of golfer Jennifer Song after just two years of school. Two other women's sports, soccer and rowing, scored better than 990.

The highest-scoring men's sport was baseball, with a score of 988 that put Chad Kreuter's squad above the 90th percentile among all baseball programs nationwide and earned the team a spot on the NCAA's Public Recognition List. Along with women's golf, baseball was one of two USC teams to earn such an award.

The NCAA reported that baseball scores were going up for many schools, because of what the athletics governing body termed a "number of sport-specific policy changes supported by the baseball community and NCAA presidents and chancellors."

USC's lowest score was turned in by the men's golf team, which earned a score of 913 for the 2008-2009 academic year. Coach Chris Zambri's squad, which tied for 15th nationally at last week's NCAA championships, also escaped punishment because of a four-year score of 976.

According to the NCAA, APR "includes eligibility, retention, and graduation as factors in the rate calculation and provides a much clearer picture of the current academic culture in each sport." It also "provides a real-time 'snapshot' of a team’s academic success each semester by looking at current academic progress of every student-athlete."

Triggs' draft prospects complicated by shoulder injury

June, 5, 2010
6/05/10
6:17
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Entering the 2010 season, USC baseball right-hander Andrew Triggs had earned quite a following among major-league scouts.

He was, at that time, nearly a perfect prospect, ranked the 38th overall player for Monday's draft (3 p.m. PT, MLB Network) according to Baseball America.

Why? Triggs had what every pro team looks for in a prospect: a dominant pitch — in his case a hard sinking fastball that allows him to pile up quick outs in a Brandon Webb-esque manner. Talk to pro scouts and a consensus emerges — give us one great pitch and we'll develop the rest.

True to form, Triggs' following had only grown midway through the season. Despite a disappointing win-loss record, he was nearly duplicating his earned-run average numbers from his redshirt freshman season as the Trojans' Friday starter, regularly matching up against some of the best college pitchers in the nation and holding his own.

Courtesy USCTrojans.com
USC right-hander Andrew Triggs is trying to prove to major-league teams that the sore shoulder that sidelined him for the end of the Trojans' 2010 season won't prevent him from utilizing his heralded sinking fastball at the next level.

Then came the injury, suffered on the last of April at home against Arizona, a team now playing in the postseason in the NCAA Regionals. Triggs had perhaps his best start of the season (seven innings, three hits, no runs) before exiting and earning the win, only his second on the year.

That was the last time he would pitch for the Trojans in 2010. Sometime between that start and his next scheduled start — against Utah a week later — the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Triggs came down with a sore throwing shoulder. He was held out of action against the Utes and against UCLA the next weekend while waiting on an official diagnosis, leaving USC extremely short-handed on pitching.

Only after the season did an MRI exam reveal the true problem: minor inflammation of the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.

USC coach Chad Kreuter recently attributed it to natural compensation as a result of the Tommy John surgery Triggs underwent during his senior year of high school. The throwing motion moves pressure onto other parts of the arm with the elbow still in a healing state — and, ergo, a sore shouder.

It's a common injury, surely, but one that has come at a very inconvenient time for Triggs.

"Long term, it's not something I'm really worried about," Triggs said this week from his home in Nashville, Tenn., where he is currently rehabbing the injury and faxing off detailed medical reports to major-league clubs around the country who have expressed interest. "But, as for right now, the timing couldn't really be any worse."

"I'm in a perpetual state of limbo at this point."

Not that all potential draftees aren't, although Triggs' case is particularly interesting in that he has heard projections anywhere from the fourth round to the 40th round.

The difference between being selected in the two rounds? A whole lot of waiting, as the late rounds don't happen until Wednesday — and roughly $250,000. A typical fourth-round selection pulls in a signing bonus around that amount, while a 40th-round selection famously earns a plane ticket to his rookie ball destination and a few dollars of spending money.

This, after entering the season as a projected first-round supplemental selection, a spot where a signing bonus in the millions is often the norm.

"It's unfortunate," said Triggs, who earned both Pac-10 Honorable Mention and All-Academic honors after a freshman season where he posted a 5-3 record and 3.95 ERA. "If the season had just finished after that Arizona start, I probably would've been in a much better position — if I just hadn't had the little hiccup with the injuries."

Now, Triggs is in the middle of a doctor-ordered rehab program — he's currently on week two of a three-to-four week process, he said — and his plan is, wherever he is selected, to take some time to prove to the team that drafts him that he is worth a sizable signing bonus. Teams have until mid-August to sign draft selections. By then, Triggs said, he hopes to be back to 100 percent.

But, as a redshirt sophomore, he is also lucky to have the option to return to school and still have leverage following the end of the next season — a key aspect in negotiation that can net a prospect many thousands more dollars from a professional team.

"There's a very, very real possibility I end up coming back to SC next year," he said. "I'd obviously like to sign, but, given my situation, I'm realistic. I know how teams view injuries, especially leading up to the draft. My expectations are tempered, and I'm not going to try to read into the situation more than I can."

Year in review: 2010 USC baseball

June, 1, 2010
6/01/10
1:13
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Well before the 2010 season started, USC baseball coach Chad Kreuter was very optimistic his team would find success his fourth year as the head coach of the Trojans.

So optimistic, in fact, he threw out a superlative of sorts to explain how he felt.

“I have more confidence going into this season than any of the three previous seasons," Kreuter said at a coaches' event in January, roughly a month before USC's season was set to start against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "Each of the three previous years we’ve had huge question marks – the pitching staff, depth, quality of starting pitching. This year we have our best pitching staff as a whole."

But, as he says now, things didn't quite work out how he planned them.

To quickly recap the four months that would follow, the Trojans finished 28-32 on the season and 7-20 in Pac-10 conference play, suffering from a myriad of injuries that would highlight a lack of pitching and infield depth and leave them grasping for air at various points in the season.

They won only four weekend series — two in conference play — and never won more than four consecutive games. USC's worst in-season skid was a mid-April tumble that saw the Trojans lose six straight to Cal and Arizona State.

By then, and by mid-May when the Trojans were outscored 36-10 over a period of three games by rivals Long Beach State and UCLA, a clear lack of pitching meant that if the Trojans' starter was uneffective on a particular day, the game would almost certainly end in defeat.

Kreuter often counts out the injuries his pitching staff suffered over the year when talking to the media. The mound-related infirmary list included: freshman right-hander Nick Berhel, redshirt sophomore right-handers Jordan Hershiser and Andrew Triggs and junior right-hander Brett Williams — who all finished the season unable to play. Various other pitchers went down for portions of 2010, and Kreuter was also without the services of a key member of the projected infield: shortstop Taylor Wrenn, who suffered a severe allergic reaction from an antibiotic used to treat bronchitis.

Wrenn played in the season opener and was effective on defense for the 17 games he did play before going home to Florida to recover fully. Kreuter said last week that a healthy Wrenn would've meant "seven, eight or nine more wins" for USC because of the defensive switches he was forced to make on the infield without his anchor at shortstop.

"This group of guys, we were just short," Kreuter said Sunday. "We needed a healthy Hershisher, Taylor Wrenn to be here all year, Andrew Triggs not to go down early. We did OK for what our circumstances were, but I'm not excited about it, and by no means can you hang your hat on anything that's been done here."

But Kreuter took solace in the comradeship he's seen develop among his team. As he talked following the Trojans' 11-5 win in Sunday's season finale, his players could be heard celebrating in the dugout, commemorating the team's five seniors.

"Hey, we started with very good team camaraderie, and we finished that way," said Kreuter, who spent 15 seasons in the big leagues. "We had some bumps in the road and it showed when we lost a couple players, but towards the end here it really picked up."

In many facets, USC was just short of finding the formula for success. Sophomore slugging first baseman Ricky Oropesa developed into a bona fide No. 3 hitter (.353 average, 20 homers, 67 RBI) over the course of the season, and the Trojans received surprisingly solid performances from a couple of sophomore right-handers, in Ben Mount (5-6, 4.32 ERA) and Brandon Garcia (2-3, 4.17). But, in the end, Kreuter conceded, he might have been a little off on his original projection of the best team in his four years as the USC coach. But he said he wasn't off on what he expected to see from his players.

"I said going into this season — this might not be the most talented group of players that we've had," Kreuter said, "but it's certainly going to be the best team, as far as playing together, getting along as a group, that type of stuff."

Baseball: Trojans get big victory on Senior Day

May, 30, 2010
5/30/10
11:00
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USC center fielder Mike O'Neill stood, smiling, at the top of the Dedeaux Field dugout steps after Sunday's game, an 11-5 win over Washington that capped off the Trojans' disappointing 2010 season.

O'Neill, a senior, had just had perhaps his best game in his collegiate career, a 4-for-5, one home run, four RBI performance that sparked the Trojans. He was right in the middle of explaining how much the Senior Day victory meant to him — right in the middle of finishing up the second syllable in the word "speechless."

Then he got a faceful of shaving cream to the face from teammate Joe De Pinto as a host of Trojans watched from the dugout steps, piling up to see O'Neill's shining moment. O'Neill had no idea it was coming, but he would later say it was a good example of the team's camaraderie even in the face of failure.

The Trojans oozed camaraderie Sunday. On a day in which four of the team's five graduating seniors shined, the Trojans (28-32, 7-20 in the Pac-10) did both the little and big things right, holding a potent Washington attack to five runs and putting together a seven-run eighth inning to take control of the game.

But it was a bittersweet victory for fourth-year USC coach Chad Kreuter, who finished the season out of an NCAA Regional for the fourth consecutive year and sporting a 111-117 overall record and 39-63 conference record as a collegiate coach.

To the 15-year big leaguer, Sunday's win represented what could've been for the Trojans.

"It's a good feeling to get the win," Kreuter said after the game. "Especially with all the seniors doing so well. But, again, we could've been here all year."

With the win and Saturday's 10-5 win, USC took two out of three from Washington, only the Trojans' second conference series win of the year.

As for Sunday's game, O'Neill and fellow senior outfielder Keith Castillo each had four hits to kickstart USC's 16-hit attack. Freshman designated hitter Cade Kreuter had the sharp single that started the Trojans' seven-run eighth inning and added a sacrifice fly later in the inning. Sophomore first baseman Ricky Oropesa was pitched around all game along and went just 1-for-2 with three walks — but the one hit was a 400+ foot homer to right field to lead off the fourth inning.

On the mound, sophomore Brandon Garcia started and was reasonably effective, throwing five innings of four-run ball. But USC got key relief from a variety of sources to stymie the Huskies as Chris Mezger pitched two innings and Adam Dedeaux, Shuhei Fujiya, Logan Odom and Brad Douthit shut out Washington for another two innings to finish out the game.

Fujiya and Dedeaux are both seniors. The team's other senior, right-hander Kevin Couture, pitched Saturday and helped the team to a win in his final game.

Notes: Oropesa powered his way into the USC record books this season. On the year, he led the Trojans in each of the triple-crown categories with a .353 battering average, 20 homers and 67 RBI, but the sophomore slugger also finished tied for sixth for homers in a single season in USC history, seventh in total bases and tied for fifth in doubles...O'Neill batted a team-high .391 in Pac-10 conference play, a big contrast from his .303 non-conference average...On the year, the younger Kreuter tied the USCsingle-season record for strikeouts, with 64 in 153 at-bats.

Baseball: USC uses unlikely combination to beat Washington

May, 29, 2010
5/29/10
7:58
PM PT
USC used an uncharacteristically patient offense and bend-but-don't-break pitching to beat visiting Washington on Saturday at Dedeaux Field, 10-5, in the Trojans' penultimate game of the season.

The Trojans (27-32, 6-20) put together 13 hits and seven walks to break out for three three-run innings. Washington (28-27, 11-15) put together 13 hits as well but left eight runners on base — a product, USC coach Chad Kreuter said, of timely pitching by a tired Trojans pitching staff.

"It was all pitching," Kreuter said after Saturday's game. "I mean, obviously we had some hitting, but we were able to get enough guys with healthy arms in there and that was big."

After hitting three homers in a 9-7 loss Friday night, USC slugger Ricky Oropesa was pitched around frequently by the Huskies' pitchers in Saturday's matinee. Oropesa went 1 for 3 but reached base three times by walking twice and scored two runs, serving as a table-setter for senior catcher Keith Castillo and the other hitters following him in the lineup.

The four hitters directly behind Oropesa reached base a combined 10 times in 16 tries.

"What he did last night affected what we did today," Kreuter said.

Senior right-hander Kevin Couture earned the start for the Trojans and pitched fairly well, exiting after three earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. Reliever Chad Smith pitched effectively in his stead but had to leave the game after the sixth inning with what Kreuter termed a "tired arm", and junior Ryan Cabral picked up for him but didn't have much success.

Cabral gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning before giving way to lefty specialist Brad Douthit and right-hander Shuhei Fujiya. Fujiya, who was expected to be the Trojans' closer this season, earned just his second save of the season Saturday after pitching two scoreless innings. Smith (5-6) got the win.

At this point, Kreuter and his Trojans have just one game left on the season (Sunday, 1 p.m.) and are mathematically eliminated from NCAA Regional contention, meaning the focus is largely on preparing for the 2011 season.

Shortly after the game, the fourth-year coach mentioned that a key commit was in the middle of a playoff game in the Bay Area. Much of Kreuter's recent post-game talks with the media have been centered on recruits for the next season and targeting players at specific positions.

Notes: With the win, USC snapped an eight-game losing streak in Pac-10 conference play, the school's longest in 25 years...With a 3-for-5 performance Saturday, center fielder Mike O'Neill raised his average to .331, second-best on the team behind only Oropesa...Washington starter Andrew Kittredge was charged with the loss after allowing four runs in 3 1/3 innings, giving the sophomore righthander seven wins and seven losses on the year and a team-high 14 decisions in 15 starts.

Kreuter: 'The pieces are all coming together for next year'

May, 26, 2010
5/26/10
1:44
PM PT
Call USC baseball coach Chad Kreuter crazy, but he expects to be back next year.

The fourth-year coach, under fire from Trojan fans and those close to the program this season for posting a 26-31 overall and 5-19 conference record, continues to recruit and look toward next season as if he will remain in charge of the stumbling USC baseball program.

Asked for his outlook for the remainder of the 2010 season, Kreuter said things are looking up — maybe not for this year, but for the next one.

"Hey, we want to win every game the rest of the year," Kreuter said after Tuesday's 8-1 upset victory over visiting UC Irvine. "But you start putting all the parts together and, at this point, and the pieces are all coming together for next year. We're waiting on the draft, obviously, but we're hoping to get most of the guys that we have committed."

Kreuter also talked at length about the recruiting class he and his staff have assembled for next season, indicating 10 high school seniors and junior college players have already committed to the Trojans.

In reference to a common criticism that he has recruited players likely to be taken high in the MLB draft and thus sign with a professional team — in 2009, USC lost Jiovanni Mier, Matt Davidson and Brooks Pounders, among others, in such a manner — Kreuter said "hopefully seven" of the 2010 recruits will actually attend USC in the fall.

"We're excited about it," he said.

Baseball: USC upsets visiting UC Irvine

May, 26, 2010
5/26/10
12:09
AM PT
Had USC coach Chad Kreuter known he could pitch this way, Trojans sophomore right-hander Brandon Garcia probably would have started more games this season for pitching-starved USC.

Garcia started only his second game of the season Tuesday against UC Irvine and pitched marvelously, going 7 2/3 innings and giving up just three hits and one run to the Anteaters — a start that propelled USC to a 8-1 upset of Irvine before 188 fans at Dedeaux Field.

Kreuter said he has seen Garcia mature into a likely weekend starter for next season over the last month, including a six-inning, three-run start against New Mexico State a week ago. He has progressed from a thrower to a pitcher, Kreuter said.

"He pitched in this start," the fourth-year coach said. "He didn't just go out there and throw. He was adding and subtracting with his fastball and changeup, just getting a real feel out there."

Garcia walked the first batter he faced to start off the game and three others on the night but succeeded multiple times in limiting the damage incurred. USC also played nearly-spotless defense for the first time in recent memory, playing the first eight innings error-free until shortstop Joe De Pinto's throwing error in the ninth.

On offense, the Trojans (26-31) managed to post the "crooked numbers" that Kreuter has emphasized so frequently, scoring three runs in fourth inning, one in the seventh and four in the eighth. First baseman Ricky Oropesa went three for five with an RBI to raise his average to .342 on the season, and right fielder Garret Houts went two for three with a double and a walk hitting out of the ninth spot in the order.

USC's first runs came after Irvine starter Nick Hoover and reliever Andy Lines combined to walk the bases loaded in the fourth inning and freshman center fielder Alex Glenn drove two runners in with a single up the middle and Houts grounded an RBI infield single down the third-base line. In the seventh, Houts scored on an RBI single from De Pinto.

The Anteaters (34-19) issued eight walks on the mound on the night, five of which came around to score. Hoover allowed just one run but lasted only 3 2/3 innings, and UCI coach Mike Gillespie had to turn to his bullpen five times on the night.

"That's the old adage of baseball — you don't walk guys," Kreuter said. "The walks do kill you. Walks just prolong innings.

"Those things happen; that's how we've gotten beat all year and it's nice to see our guys turn it around."

Combined with an 8-6 victory at Irvine earlier this month, USC swept the Anteaters in a season series for the first time since 2003. The Trojans now turn to face Washington for a weekend series at Dedeaux Field to close out the 2010 season.

Notes: Kreuter said pregame that five of his pitchers are finished for the season due to injuries, including redshirt sophomore righthander Andrew Triggs, who has a tired shoulder. ... The USC pitching staff hit a season-high four batters on the night, two by Garcia and two by reliever Logan Odom.

Gillespie returns to USC

May, 25, 2010
5/25/10
6:35
PM PT
Much has been made of Mike Gillespie's unceremonious departure from USC in 2006, and with good reason.

Gillespie spent 20 years as the the Trojans' head baseball coach, and his teams qualified for an NCAA Regional 15 times. They twice made it to the national championship game and won the title once, in 1998.

But in three of his last four seasons at USC, Gillespie's Trojans finished under .500. And in June of 2006, as quickly and as quietly as possible, USC replaced him with his son-in-law, former major leaguer Chad Kreuter.

At the time, USC's press release said Gillespie retired, and the university has stuck to that stance since. But the ever-forthright Gillespie admitted Monday that he was indeed fired and did not retire or resign.

"To be brutally frank and candid, I got fired there," Gillespie said. "Over the period of the 20 years that we were there, I don’t have any false pride or humility in saying that we had a great run.

"By and large, we had a great run. But in 3 of the last 4 years, we didn’t and I got fired."

Shown Gillespie's comments, a USC spokesperson maintained that Gillespie retired, as was detailed here.

As the story goes, soon after his firing Gillespie took a job managing the Staten Island Yankees, New York's Single-A affiliate. Just 17 months from the time he left USC, he was hired to take over a prestigious program at UC Irvine. He has directed the Anteaters to two consecutive playoff appearances and the program's first-ever midseason No. 1 ranking.

And he's on pace for another playoff run this year, ranked in the Top 25 nationally by multiple outlets. But Gillespie harbors no ill will towards the USC baseball program or anyone in the administration, he emphasized.

Kreuter has struggled to the tune of a 108-116 overall record in four seasons at the helm of the USC program and no postseason appearances, leading to louder and louder calls for his firing at the end of this season. But, if it was up to Gillespie, Kreuter would keep his job.

"People can criticize Chad Kreuter all they want, but they’re morons," Gillespie said. "They do not know what’s going on. Chad’s a premier baseball guy, and he’s got a lot of help on that coaching staff. They’ve just been cursed."

Gillespie dismissed Kreuter's recruiting misses over the years, calling his son-in-law a "good recruiter" and mentioning the scholarship problem that Kreuter has brought up many times over the years. Simply put, a 50 percent scholarship to play baseball at USC means less to many middle-class families than a similar scholarship to a state school does, because of the increased cost of attending a private school the caliber of USC.

Said Gillespie: "If Chad Kreuter is stupid, the other 280 coaches in the country are stupid as well."

Gillespie and Kreuter will match up tonight (7:15 p.m., Dedeaux Field), in the Irvine coach's third time returning to USC since the coaching switch. In each of the two previous games, UC Irvine topped USC. In fact, when the Trojans beat the Anteaters, 8-6, at UCI earlier this month, it was Irvine's first loss to USC under Gillespie.

Gillespie, who also turned 70 earlier this month, talked Monday about the frustrating loss. In the game, USC rallied to score three runs in the ninth after entering the inning trailing 6-5. Trojans freshman designated hitter Cade Kreuter — Kreuter's son and Gillespie's grandson — also hit a solo homer to tie up the game in the fourth inning.

"It was a good win for them," Gillespie said. "They played well, but the thing that was memorable was that my grandson hit one out of here."

Baseball: USC swept by Washington State

May, 23, 2010
5/23/10
9:14
PM PT
Sunday's effort was better than Friday's and Saturday's for USC, but not by enough to earn a series-salvaging win.

The slipping and sliding Trojans held No. 24 Washington State in check for the first seven innings of Sunday's game before the host Cougars unloaded for five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to break the game open, take the 8-2 victory and send USC home without a win.

Senior righthander Kevin Couture continued his hot streak on the mound, throwing six innings of two-run ball before giving way to reliever Chad Smith. Smith retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a solo homer to Washington State outfielder Garry Kuykendall and loading the bases with Cougars.

He proceeded to get out of the inning but allowed three of the four batters he faced in the eighth to reach base and was charged with four earned runs on the day. Couture has given up two runs his last four appearances, spanning 18 innings.

USC's only runs in the game came on a double steal in the third inning that cost the Trojans a run and an RBI single from center fielder Mike O'Neill in the eighth inning. Third baseman Matt Hart scored both runs.

After losing 20-7 on Friday and 18-4 on Saturday, USC (25-31, 5-19 in the Pac-10) allowed more runs in the weekend series than it had in any other three-game series in the history of the program.

The Trojans are also now locked into the last spot in the conference standings — at 5-19, with a conference winning percentage of .208, USC is a full five games behind ninth-place Oregon State. And, barring a three-game sweep of the Washington Huskies next weekend, coach Chad Kreuter's team will also be the only conference squad to register an under-.500 record on the season.

USC now needs to win each of its last four games in order to avoid the worst regular season of Kreuter's four-year tenure, with a mid-week game with Big West power UC Irvine looming Tuesday before the Washington series.

Baseball: Two big losses for USC

May, 22, 2010
5/22/10
10:37
PM PT
The struggles continue for USC baseball, as a trip to Pac-10 rival Washington State this weekend has done the reeling Trojans no good — and a whole lot of bad.

In two games, USC has been outscored 38-11 by the No. 24 Cougars. Friday, USC was down from the start after righthander Ben Mount allowed six runs in the bottom of the first inning. The Trojans got as close as 7-2 in the third inning before Washington State tacked on runs in the third and fourth and exploded for 10 runs in the fifth to open up a 19-2 lead.

An Alex Glenn RBI triple and Ryan Bast RBI double gave the Trojans three runs in the eighth inning, and they would add two more before the Cougars won by a score of 20-7.

Saturday, USC starter Chris Mezger kept the Cougars under wraps for the first three innings, but the fourth inning was a sight to see. Washington State sent 16 hitters to the plate and plated 11 of them in the inning, putting the game instantly out of reach.

Sophomore slugger Ricky Oropesa hit a two-run homer (his 16th on the season) in the fifth inning and added an RBI groundout in the sixth, but the Trojans got only one more run, on a solo shot from outfielder Garret Houts. Washington State won 18-4.

Remarkably, USC used only three pitchers in each game. With only a few relievers available, coach Chad Kreuter was forced to keep his pitchers out on the mound. The worst performance of the weekend, so far? Shuhei Fujiya's five-hit, one-walk, seven-run line in 1/3 of an inning Friday, raising his ERA to 8.39 on the season.

Next for the Trojans is the final game of the series at 12 p.m. Sunday, then a Tuesday home game against Mike Gillespie-led Anteaters of UC Irvine. A three-game weekend series with Washington will then conclude USC's season.

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