Strong returning core has Ducks looking to build on 2012 success

staff report / The Bulletin /


Published Feb 15, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

EUGENE — Coming off the best season in program history and with a number of key players returning, the Oregon Ducks open their 2013 baseball season tonight at Hawaii.

The four-game series at Les Murakami Stadium in Honolulu marks the third consecutive year in which the Ducks are opening the season in Hawaii.

Oregon finished last season with a school-record 46 wins (46-19) and with its first appearance in the modern era in the Super Regional round.

Eleven position players, including seven starters, return for the Ducks this season, as do eight pitchers, including All-America closer Jimmie Sherfy.

Entering his fifth season as head coach at Oregon, George Horton — the Ducks’ only head coach since Oregon revived its baseball program starting in 2009 — brings an experienced squad into the 2013 season. Eight players who started at least 18 games in 2012 return as probable starters this year.

The projected starters for the Ducks feature their top two hitters from last season: junior left fielder Brett Thomas, who batted a team-best .313 in 2012, and junior first baseman Ryon Healy, who finished at .312 and also drove in a team-leading 42 runs.

Second baseman Aaron Payne, also a junior, hit .277 last season and led the team in stolen bases with 16. Oregon’s starting shortstop is J.J. Altobelli, a senior who batted .265 in 51 starts in 2012.

Another senior, Ryan Hambright (.265), is expected to open at third base, where he started 19 of the last 21 games last season.

Behind the plate for the Ducks will be either sophomore Shaun Chase (.189), who started 25 games at catcher last season, or Josh Graham, a freshman out of Roseburg High School.

Joining Thomas in the outfield will be Scott Heineman (.189), who moves to center field after starting 27 games at third base last year, and sophomore Steven Packard, who made 45 starts as a true freshman in 2010 but was not on the team last year while completing a two-year church mission. Packard is the projected right fielder.

Another outfield possibility is junior Kyle Garlick (.287), who started a combined 58 games last year as either right fielder or designated hitter. For now, Garlick, who tied for the team lead with six home runs in 2012, is expected to be the Ducks’ DH.

The Oregon pitching staff is anchored by a pair of right-handers: junior Jeff Gold and sophomore Jake Reed, both of whom posted 8-4 records last season. Reed, whose earned-run average was a low 2.92, was a Freshman All-American in 2012.

Sherfy, a junior right-hander, is Horton’s go-to reliever. In a team-high 36 appearances last season, all in relief, Sherfy’s record was 5-3 with a .220 ERA and a school-record 19 saves.

Oregon’s scheduled home opener is next Friday in the first game of a three-game series with Loyola Marymount.

In the polls

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches

(First-place votes in parentheses)

1. Stanford (5) 93

2. UCLA (2) 90

3. Oregon State (3) 87

4. Oregon 73

5. Arizona 65

6. Arizona State 58

7. California 40

8. (tie) USC 32

Washington State 32

10. Washington 28

11. Utah 12

National Polls

(With 2012 records)

Baseball America

1. North Carolina 46-16

2. Vanderbilt 35-28

3. Arkansas 46-22

Also

6. Oregon State 40-20

15. Oregon 46-19

Collegiate Baseball

1. Arkansas 46-22

2. North Carolina 46-16

3. Vanderbilt 35-28

Also

6. Oregon 46-19

10. Oregon State 40-20

USA Today Coaches

1. Arkansas 46-22

2. UCLA 48-16

3. LSU 47-18

Also

6. Oregon 46-19

14. Oregon State 40-20

NCBWA

1. Arkansas 46-22

2. North Carolina 46-16

3. LSU 47-18

Also

8. Oregon 46-19

10. Oregon State 40-20

Perfect Game

1. North Carolina 46-16

2. Arkansas 46-22

3. Vanderbilt 35-28

Also

8. Oregon State 40-20

10. Oregon 46-19

Next up

Oregon at Hawaii

• When: Today, 5:35 p.m.