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College baseball: Brandon Bailey picks up where he left off for Bulldogs

The Tommy John surgery that took Brandon Bailey’s senior season of high school baseball also disrupted his freshman season of college, even if he was still Gonzaga’s best pitcher.

Bailey led the Bulldogs in wins (six), earned-run average (3.69) and threw four of the team’s five complete games. But the elbow surgery took away his slider and affected the pitcher’s control, so Bailey’s strikeout numbers were average and his 26 walks in 102 1/3 innings also led the team, by a wide margin.

A year later with the surgery well behind Bailey, his slider is back and he’s turned into the ace that was expected when he was named the Colorado 4A Player of the Year as a high school junior after posting an 11-0 record for Broomfield High during a championship season.

“He’s just continued to get stronger and you kind of see that from guys that have surgery,” said GU coach Mark Machtolf. “It takes awhile they’re not going to bounce back right away and be 100 percent.”

GU (10-10, 1-2 WCC) beat San Francisco in Friday’s conference opener, 7-0, thanks to seven shutout innings from Bailey, who struck out nine batters and only walked one.With three plus-pitches – a lefty-punishing changeup in addition to his slider and fastball – Bailey (4-1) has confused batters to the tune of 38 strikeouts in 36 innings. Better yet, he’s only walked six batters and is currently posting a 1.75 ERA.

Machtolf credits Bailey’s early-season success to hard work this offseason, pitching for the Wenatchee AppleSox with many of his teammates and continuing a vigorous workout pattern that began while grinding through rehab.

“I think that’s kind of a characteristic, in general, when you have guys that have baseball taken away from them,” Machtolf said. “They are kind of on the verge of, ‘Shoot, am I ever going to pitch again?’ That’s a very rude awakening and it shocks them into the reality of it’s pretty special to pitch at the college or professional level.”

Bailey has paired with junior Andrew Sopko (2-2, 2.03 ERA) to give the Bulldogs a formidable starting rotation and lighten the bullpen’s workload. Sopko pitched well but the bats fell quiet in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to USF. GU has the potential for good offense but the hitters have struggled at inopportune times this season and error-prone fielders have undone the good work of the guys on the mound. Machtolf believes that the offense will come around and that the misfortunes that have cost his team a few wins already are “just baseball,” and will even out.

Until the Bulldogs are on track in every phase, however, they continue to have a shot in games when Bailey pitches, and he’s only getting stronger.

Around the area

Washington State will conclude a seven-game road trip this weekend with three games at No. 25 Oregon State. The Cougars (12-8, 1-2 Pac-12) opened conference play in Los Angeles at No. 6 USC, taking a game from the Trojans thanks to a complete game from pitcher Joe Pistorese in Saturday’s 4-2 win. On Tuesday, the Cougars played a midweek game against No. 30 San Diego and lost 5-4. … Whitworth avoided a sweep against Pacific Northwest rival Pacific Lutheran on Saturday, beating the No. 19 Lutes 10-4 in Parkland, Washington. Whitworth (11-8, 5-4 NWC) is led by junior outfielder Jeremy Druffel, and Joshua Davis who have six of the team’s 10 home runs.

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