Oregon State’s baseball season kicks off Friday afternoon in Surprise, Arizona, with little or no fanfare outside of the Beavers’ neck of the woods.
A program that two years ago brought home its third national title in 13 years, is only as high as No. 25 in one poll and was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 by the conference coaches.
None of that matters.
“That's why we play the games,” senior infielder Andy Armstrong said. “You never know what's going to happen. I think that stuff is just outside distractions. It's cool to see your team up there if you're ranked high but at the end of the day it doesn't really mean anything. So we’ve just got to do our thing and focus on us and everything else will take care of itself.”
The Beavers open the Mitch Canham era at noon Friday in Surprise Stadium against New Mexico where lefty Christian Chamberlain is expected to take the bump.
According to the Oregon State game notes, lefty Jake Mulholland is slated to throw Saturday’s game against Gonzaga (1 p.m.) while right-handers Jake Pfennigs and Nathan Burns, respectively, will wrap up the weekend — Gonzaga at 1 p.m. Sunday and BYU at noon Monday.
Chamberlain said Tuesday he expects the pitching staff to be a strength yet again this season.
“We’ve got some young guys that have looked really, really good in the fall and in the scrimmages leading up to season so I think everyone will fill in the roles and I don't think we’re going to skip a beat as far as the pitching staff goes,” said Chamberlain, who was 3-4 last season with a 3.83 ERA.
The players are excited to finally face someone who doesn’t have the Beavers logo stitched on the uniform.
"It'll be nice to play someone new and I mean I think that's the biggest thing, getting season started," Chamberlain said.
This weekend in Arizona will be followed up a by a three-game series at perennial SEC power Mississippi State. The Beavers head to San Diego for four games against San Diego State and then open the home portion of the schedule on March 6 on Goss Stadium.
Armstrong expects there to be some opportunities for players to show they belong in the starting lineup over the first couple weeks of the season.
“We're going to put a lot of different guys in there and everyone's going to get their chance and I think it's still a mystery to a lot of us,” he said. “… I'm excited to see what's going to happen as far as who plays. I think there's a lot of great potential on this team and I've always said this, but I'm glad I'm not writing the lineup because I don't know what I would do. We’ve got so many different options to throw out there so we'll see.”
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It sounds, though, as if Canham has a pretty good idea of who may play where after dissecting the players with their respective position coaches.
He knows one things is certain regardless of who is on the field at any given moment.
“I know that our competitive nature and the energy that we bring collectively is going to be a strong suit for us,” he said. “And everyone on our roster, I am very comfortable with them to go out there and hold down a defensive position and put together as strong at-bat, give ourselves a chance to be in every game.”
Canham hinted that he won’t be afraid to make moves whenever they are needed, including in games.
“Each game that we have, each inning that we have, we're going to put the guys that have the best chance of being successful out there,” Canham said. “There's something to be said about consistency, but a lot of our training has also been being ready for that moment to come off the bench if need be, and the importance of those roles as well.
“So we were training everyone, not only to be ready for the starting roles, but those pinch-hit opportunities, pinch running, defensive substitutions. And then we have, if you look at the entirety of our roster, we have a lot of flexibility.”
Canham said it’s hard to label him with a specific coaching style. He said he needs to be flexible, and what he decides in certain situations will depend on the pace of the game, what the energy level is for that day, what the bullpen looks like and who's at the plate.
“It's hard to ever say that there's going to be one style that we play other than we're going to play with our hearts and passion,” Canham said. “I know that's going to be a constant.
"But there are going to be some days that you know what, we're going to fight to get that one runner over and get him in. And there's going to be other days where maybe we're going to play for a big inning and not allow any outs.”
Whatever they do, the Beavers will have a “relentless” approach.
What exactly does that mean?
“A lot of the teams, if you look back, were relentless and so that hasn't really changed for us,” Armstrong said. “Obviously these new guys coming in, that might be a little new to them but everyone that's been here, and everyone the locker room now knows that that's how Oregon State plays baseball and that's how we're going to continue to play baseball.
“It doesn't matter what our record is or what the score of the game is, we're going to always continue to be relentless and pursue excellence. So that's what we're going to do.”
That pursuit of a return to the College World Series begins Friday.