Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso summed it up best Friday night, saying “we’re glad (Dillon Tate) is not throwing again (Saturday) or Sunday.”
The UC Santa Barbara right-hander, regarded as the top collegiate pitching prospect for the 2015 MLB Draft, showed why against the Rainbow Warriors. Tate didn’t allow a hit over seven innings, facing three batters over the minimum. He walked two and hit two others, but got two double plays from his defense and buckled down when it mattered the most.
He flashed a wicked 87 MPH slider that complemented a fastball that sat 93 to 96 for most of the game and touched 98. He also threw a steady diet of changeups that completely fooled the UH lineup.
UH designated hitter Alex Sawelson, who batted with two on and one out in the fourth inning in Hawaii’s only real scoring opportunity, struck out swinging after Tate threw a changeup and slider behind in the count that dropped off the outside corner perfectly.
Sawelson faced Tate last summer in the California Collegiate League.
“I thought he was way better than he was in the summer,” Sawelson said. “That’s a spot that I have to get it done.”
Tate was on a pitch count in the low 90s after missing last week’s start with a minor arm injury suffered lifting weights two weeks ago. He’s now 6-3 this season with a 1.57 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings.
“Everybody kind of knew going into (the series) that (Hawaii) comes to play us every time we play,” Tate said. “(The injury) was really minor and I was working a bit too hard and I needed to give my body a break.
“I was a little worried at first but (UCSB coach Andrew Checketts) told me that I would be fine and he was kind of excited for me to go out there so I trusted him and got out there and I felt fine.”
UC Santa Barbara reached the 30-win mark in 39 games and is a victory away in the next two games from winning its first series against Hawaii in the Big West.
Checketts was well aware of how his team has fared against UH in conference play. The Gauchos went 34-17-1 last season but didn’t make the NCAA tournament because of a 12-12 conference record. That included two home losses in three games against Hawaii, which was 6-18 in league play.
“They’ve spanked us,” Checketts said. “They came into our park last year and beat us around pretty good. I think all of our guys are well aware of how they’ve played against us and they’ve been a good team at home the last couple of weeks.”
Tate is the best, but not the only great pitcher on the UCSB staff. Saturday’s starter, left-hander Justin Jacome, is 6-1 with a 2.61 ERA. Right-hander Shane Bieber, who goes Sunday, is 5-3 with a 2.12 ERA. The Gauchos also have lefty Domenic Mazza, who is 5-0 with a 2.19 ERA, and first baseman Robby Nesovic, who has six saves and a 2.19 ERA in 12 1/3 innings pitched.
UCSB looks the part of a team capable of being a host site for an NCAA regional. Beating Hawaii, which has played its best baseball the last two seasons against the Gauchos, will go a long way in accomplishing that.
Game 2 is Saturday night at a special start time of 6:05 p.m.