This time one year ago, playing at Cal State Bakersfield probably wasn’t on the minds of Darius Vines, Ethan Skuija and Edgar Barclay. Each one was at a different school around the country, trying to position himself best to either transfer or sign with a Major League Baseball team as a result of the draft.
More than one month into the 2019 CSUB baseball season, however, and the trio of transfers has turned into the Roadrunners’ top pitchers.
“Out of me, Skuij and Edgar, literally all of us can be Friday guys, Saturday guys, Sunday guys,” Vines said, referencing the starting rotation. “It doesn't matter. Just being trustworthy and being held accountable for who you are and what your team wants you to be.”
CSUB head coach Jeremy Beard took some risk, banking on seven junior college transfers to revive a struggling pitching staff, and it has paid off so far.
Granted the staff as a whole had some tough outings this weekend at New Mexico State. After winning the series opener 9-4, CSUB lost 23-1 on Saturday and 12-9 in Sunday's rubber match.
Entering the weekend, however, Vines (12.77), Barclay (11.57) and Skuija (11.27) led the conference in strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Each one was among the top 10 Western Athletic Conference pitchers ranked by earned run average. And Vines did pick up Friday's win at NMSU, going 6.2 innings, surrendering four runs and striking out eight.
Through 25 games, the entire staff has improved its ERA from 5.59 last season to 4.60 this year. Entering the weekend series at NMSU, CSUB was allowing 7.41 hits per nine innings which ranked 37th in the country.
And the staff hopes to get back on track this week, when the Roadrunners host Fresno State on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and then a three-game WAC series against Seattle, scheduled Friday through Sunday.
“You always want to go into a season knowing your pitching is your strength,” Beard said. “And we invested a lot of time and money into the pitching. We had to. We had to make a big step forward there and it’s happened that way. Our pitchers are tremendous workers. When you can pitch and play defense you’re in any ballgame. That was the focus.”
Vines has been the Roadrunners’ Friday starter and was possibly the least likely to ever end up at CSUB. He played at Oxnard College, then Yavapai College in Arizona as a freshman and sophomore. Vines, a righty, signed with Arizona State and was on campus before learning on Aug. 13, 2018 that some of his credits did not transfer properly to the school, he said. They could transfer to CSUB, though, and Vines became a Roadrunner.
He wasn’t much of a pitcher throughout high school, either. He only took the mound more frequently as a senior when a teammate got hurt. Vines was a two-way player as recently as this summer but blisters on his hands hindered his hitting and turned him into a pitcher only.
Skuija, originally from Victoria, British Columbia, played at the University of British Columbia (NAIA) out of high school. The right-hander then went to Ohlone College, where he was tied for fifth among California junior college pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings.
He pounds the lower half of the strike zone early in at-bats with fastballs. Then he leans on his favorite pitch: his slider.
Barclay spent his freshman season at Central Arizona College and his sophomore year at GateWay Community College in Arizona. The lefty is beginning to get back his curveball, which he couldn’t throw effectively for about a year, he said.
Returning to his home state of Hawaii, Barclay gave up just one hit during a complete-game shutout of the Rainbow Warriors on March 17.
Though none of the three consider themselves strikeout pitchers, they were statistically the best in the WAC prior to the start of league play. Barclay, Skuija and Vines had the three best ERAs on the team. Barclay’s WHIP (walks plus hits per nine innings) ranked 31st in the nation.
They’re proving that it was smart for Beard and his staff to go after junior college pitchers.
“The key is getting the right ones, getting the ones you think will fit into your system well and be able to accomplish the things that we need them to accomplish without taking too much time to develop,” Beard said. “We had a tremendous fall and heading into this season you never really know who’s going to rise up entirely, but we did feel confident that all three guys would be a large part of our pitching staff.”