Fisch is back.
The fifth-year senior started his first game in Baggett Stadium since May 18, 2008 and tied the knot on the first sweep for the Mustangs since 2009, defeating Valparaiso 7-1 Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve gotten two starts on the road, so it’s nice to come back home,” Fischback said. “It’s my first start in three years here. I’m happy with it.”
The win gives the Mustangs (4-6) some much needed momentum after going winless through their first six games of the season. And after Cal Poly was able to get its first win of the season Tuesday night against then-undefeated Fresno State, 11-4, the Mustangs have now reeled off four straight.
Part of the success is due to the performance of Cal Poly’s pitching staff. In the three games combined, the Mustangs allowed just two earned runs to the Crusaders (1-11). Mason Radeke pitched Friday night and recorded 14 strikeouts through seven innings to tie the Cal Poly Division I record for strikeouts in a single game.
Saturday night, pitchers Kyle Anderson, Chase Johnson and Chris Taylor combined to shutout Valparaiso 11-0. It was the first time the Mustangs shutout an opponent since they blanked Fresno State 13-0 on April 29, 2007.
Then Sunday, it was Fischback, who racked up his first win since May 4, 2008. He went six innings, while allowing four hits and one earned run.
“It’s important for him to get better with each outing,” head coach Larry Lee said. “I think our players appreciate what he has gone through just to get back to this level.”
Around the clubhouse, Fischback is starting to become a motivating factor. After he missed the last two seasons due to a labrum injury, Fischback’s teammates have realized the work he has put in to get back to this point. Fischback spent countless hours in the training room to come back and help his teammates, and now it’s their turn to return the favor, third baseman Evan Busby said.
“We want to work hard for him, just as hard as he is working for us,” Busby said. “It’s great to have him back up on the mound. The response of the home crowd was evident of how we feel. We love Fisch and it was nice to have him back up there.”
It was evident in the box score. The Mustangs outscored the Crusaders 19-2 heading into Sunday’s game, and the scoring didn’t stop there. After outscoring Valparaiso by six runs Sunday, the Mustangs outscored Valparaiso 26-3 for the series.
“First of all its good to be home,” Busby said. “We work hard in practice, we are constantly in the film room looking at our swings and that kind of thing.”
The Mustangs’ offense got started early. After Fischback gave up his only run of the game in the third, the Mustangs came back to score three runs. In the inning, Valparaiso third baseman Mike Morman kicked a ground ball, picked it up and threw wide of first with the bases loaded. Morman was charged with two errors and two runs came across for the Mustangs. Then, when designated hitter D.J. Gentile brought home Mike Miller after a ground out to first on a 0-2 count, the Mustangs took a 3-1 lead.
From there, Cal Poly kept piling on the runs.
After scoring two runs in the sixth, Busby squeezed a base hit between the first baseman and right field line to bring home two more runs in the seventh.
“I just went up looking for a pitch I could handle well,” Busby said. “On that one, the changeup kind of floated high, I felt like I could handle that well and I put a good swing on it.”
With the Mustangs leading the Crusaders 7-1, closer Jeff Johnson came into the game with two outs in the eighth inning. Johnson struck out the side in the ninth on 12 pitches to end the game.
“This is a pretty good staff,” Lee said. “We’re pretty good on the front end of a game and we have some guys that can fill in the middle innings. We’re really good at the end of the game with Johnson.”
But of course, the strength of the pitching staff remains a big question, depending on the health of Fischback. With him missing two full seasons, it’s almost expected he will have some fatigue or soreness as his pitch count rises. After throwing a total of 84 pitches Sunday, he used one word to describe how his arm felt.
“Sore,” Fischback said. “It’s going to be like this for a while. It’s something where it takes me quite a few days to get back into the flow of things and then I start thinking about my start Thursday and Friday.”
Lee said the amount of innings Fischback will pitch in a single outing still depends on his numbers. When trying to calculate how long a player who has just pitched three times in the last three seasons, multiple factors come into play.
“The capability is there, I just think it depends on the results he is getting,” Lee said. “I don’t think it is going to be an issue extending him or not, there is probably not a need to in most games. I think with Steven six (innings) is a good number.”
But even with the sparse four-to-six inning spurts Fischback has been pitching, he has still been noticeably sore, he said. And for Fischback, he is still unsure of whether this soreness is a result of rust, or if it’s going to be a reoccurring theme this season.
But one thing is for sure. After three years of hard fought rehab, there is no way he wants to feel this way for much longer.
“I don’t know when it’s going to stop,” Fischback said. “But, hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.”