Wazzu baseball seeking to snap slide vs. Cardinal

Washington State freshman infielder Gunner Gouldsmith, pictured playing against Seattle U on March 7, has gotten time at second base in Kyle Russell’s absence.

Brian Green never got to coach the Washington State baseball team in a Pac-12 Conference game here last year. The coronavirus pandemic ended the 2020 season just days before the Cougars’ first scheduled Pac-12 home series.

More than a year later, Green, WSU’s second-year leader, gets that opportunity starting today. He and the Cougars host Stanford in a three-game series through Saturday for the team’s first Pac-12 games at Bailey-Brayton Field since May 2019. It’s also just the Cougs’ second home series this season.

The series begins at 4 p.m. today. All three games will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.

“Personally for me, having my family, all of our coaches’ families, to be able to open up against Stanford, a storied program ... we were champing at the bit last year,” Green said Wednesday during a virtual press conference. “I’m just excited to put that Coug uniform on in a Pac-12 match and be here at home.”

WSU (12-8, 1-5) has played 17 of its first 20 games on the road. It wasn’t supposed to play its first home games until this week, but weather conditions forced an early March series with Seattle University to be shifted from Seattle to Pullman. The Cougars opened conference play with three-game sets at Oregon State and Arizona State.

The Cougars host Stanford hoping to halt a slide that has included losses in four consecutive games and six of the past seven. The stretch has come against stiff competition; Oregon State is ranked 17th in the USA TODAY coaches poll, and Arizona State is the top vote-getter among teams outside the top 25.

It doesn’t get any easier this week. The Cardinal (14-4, 2-1) are ranked 24th in the same poll. The three games here will be their first outside of California this season.

But the Cougs get one of their best players back. All-American Kyle Manzardo, who logged only one plate appearance at ASU because of a hamstring injury, “should be good” to return against Stanford, Green said. Manzardo did not play in two of the three games against the Sun Devils.

The junior first baseman leads WSU’s everyday players in most offensive categories, including a .365/.455/.716 slash line, six home runs and 24 RBI. He reached base for the 43rd game in a row with a pinch-hit intentional walk in his only plate appearance at ASU, setting a new program record.

Green described Manzardo’s hamstring injury as “really low grade, kind of a nothing,” adding that holding him out for most of the ASU series was out of an abundance of caution.

“You’ll see him this weekend,” Green said.

However, the Cougars likely will remain without infielder Kyle Russell, who hasn’t played since the fourth game of the year. The highly touted freshman started the entire season-opening set at UC Davis at second base, going 5-for-12 at the plate, but has been out since. Green said there’s “a chance” Russell plays against Stanford, but said he’s more likely to play next weekend at Utah.

In Russell’s absence, Preston Clifford and Gunner Gouldsmith have split time at second.

WSU enters the series ranked second in the Pac-12 in batting average (.295) and runs per game (7.5), but last in multiple pitching categories, including ERA (5.53), WHIP (1.68) and hit batsmen (32). The Cougars also struggled defensively against ASU, committing five errors in three games. They’ve been charged with at least one error in five straight and are one of five Pac-12 teams averaging at least one error per game.

Stanford ranks eighth nationally with a .983 fielding percentage and has swiped 25 bases this season. Relief pitchers Zach Grech and Brandt Pancer own the best ERAs in the league at 1.40 and 1.69, respectively, and Grech is tied for the Division I lead with seven saves.

Vincent Martinez is the Cardinal’s top hitter with a .400 average. Brock Jones is tied for second in the Pac-12 with seven homers to pace one of the conference’s best home-run-hitting teams.

“They’re good,” Green said. “They swing hard, they’ve got some strength and it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

WSU REVEALS COMPLETED PROJECT: BTO — The Cougars officially unveiled their new all-inclusive clubhouse Tuesday with a video tour that included testimonials from WSU’s players, coaches and staff, and a Zoom meeting with supporters.

The $10 million facility, which aims to improve players’ performance and attract recruits, represents an important step toward Green’s goal of taking the Cougars back to the College World Series, where the program hasn’t been since 1976.

“It was a celebration of all of those that have helped and have been a part of the project,” Green said of the virtual opening. “We revealed it to them first and said thank you, and we had a Q&A about what the facility means to recruiting and development and momentum and how we’re utilizing it.”

LIMITED SPECTATORS PERMITTED FOR SERIES — A small number of family members and fans will be allowed inside Bailey-Brayton for this week’s games against Stanford.

According to the athletic department, player/coach guests, season ticket holders and a limited number of students may attend home games “while continuing to abide by all health and safety policies and protocols that follow campus, Pac-12 Conference, NCAA, local, state and federal guidelines, as well as national best practices.”

Green said WSU alumnus and 14-year Major Leaguer Scott Hatteberg plans to attend, as does former Coug and World Series champion Tom Niedenfuer.

Guernsey may be contacted at mguernsey@lmtribune.com, (208) 848-2268 or on Twitter @MD_Guernsey.

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