The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
College of San Mateo starting pitcher Zac Grotz admits the first inning of a baseball game isn’t his favorite — you can even call it a love-hate kind of thing.
Hate, because just like on Tuesday afternoon against Monterrey Peninsula College, Grotz has struggled in the first inning of some games this season.
But love, because once out number three is recorded, Grotz is usually nails — thus, the first serves as the gateway to his success.
Grotz and the Bulldogs overcame a slow start Tuesday to take down the Lobos 8-1. After surrendering a run two batters into the game, No. 22 settled down and pitched seven innings, scattering another five hits while walking two and striking out five.
“Throughout the year, the first inning has always been the toughest for me,” Grotz said. “Coming from last year, I was kind of a reliever, so transitioning back to starting, once I get that first inning down, I’m comfortable.”
“He doesn’t rattle,” said CSM manager Doug Williams. “He just pours the ball into the zone, he’s not afraid of any situation and that’s the sign of a real number one. He’s really good.”
For a minute there, it looked like Monterrey came out with more intensity than the Bulldogs were ready for. Ty Morris tripled and Dylan Candae singled him home right after to make it 1-0 and no out.
But something clicked for Grotz after that knock and the right-hander got a pair of ground balls and a strikeout to limit the first-inning damage.
“Zac has been so good,” Willams said. “He settled in. He’s got his composure and he kept it small. And we talk about keeping it small in those situations and that’s what he was able to do there.”
“I feel like it’s almost how I go out there in the first inning,” Grotz said. “Sometimes, you’re not always there, your stuff’s not there, or your not feeling well. So, it’s kind of hard to keep that repetitive attitude every time. But, I try to get in that same routine. I can feel I was a little off today.”
If Grotz was a little off, the Lobos pitching staff was way off. Starter Otto Kramm lasted three hitters and left with the bases full of Bulldogs in the first — all of which reached via the free base (two walks, one hit batter).
Marc Heron was summoned and he quickly proceeded to walk in the tying run. Then, Kailen Robinson followed with a shot to centerfield that was misread by the outfielder and allowed two runs to waltz home to make it 3-1. After another walk, Jarett Costa’s fielder’s choice brought in another CSM run. By the time the first inning was over, Grotz’s tough start was forgetten with the Bulldogs up 4-1.
“They helped us a little bit,” Williams said of the Lobos pitchers who in all gifted 12 base runners via the free pass (eight walks, four hit batters) in the game. “They had trouble finding the plate, but we continue to improve and get better after a shaky start. We feel good about that. We go into a tough week, so it’s nice to get that first one.”
Grotz put the game on cruise control from there, running into minor trouble in the sixth (two on, one out, double play to get out of the inning) and seventh.
Between the first and that seventh, the Bulldog offense staked the former Burlingame Panther with plenty of support.
In the fourth, a Brandon Defazio lead-off single turned into a run coutesy of Robinson and in the fifth, an Armstrong single turned into another run thanks to a Trevin Craig squeeze bunt.
WIth the score 5-1 in the seventh, a runner on first and two outs, Grotz got a visit from Williams.
“Lately my arm has been a little tired,” Grotz said. “So, we’ve been on a little bit of a pitch watch. He came out and told me one more and told me that was going to be my last batter. I said, ‘fine. I’m going to go after this guy.’ Once that guy pulled the ball down the line, with runners on second and third, I didn’t want to leave it up to someone else. I Just wanted to finish it and get it done.”
That last jam ended innocently with a ground ball to second. Grotz then gave way to Vincent Koci, who was perfect in an inning of work. DJ Sharabi and Skyler Fuss closed the win out for the Bulldogs.
CSM added a run in the seventh when an error at second allowed Armstrong to race around third and score after a sensational slide at the plate. Then one more in the eighth on a Robinson single.
“We’ve been doing a lot better job of that lately — coming up with some big hits and timely hits and that’s what was missing early,” Williams said. “Although we still left a fair share of runners on base today, we did enough.”