With his last two closers now in the starting rotation, George Horton is auditioning for roles at the back of Oregon’s bullpen.
Nico Tellache made a case to be the closer by retiring all four batters he faced to earn his first career save in Oregon’s 4-3 win over Loyola Marymount Friday night in front of 713 at PK Park.
The Lions had runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the eighth when Tellache came in to strike out Nick Sogard. The junior left-hander struck out Kenny Oyama and Brandon Shearer to open the ninth before Cooper Uhl flew out to end the game.
“That is what I have visualized and been wanting,” Tellache said. “I have been chomping at the bit. I was ready for it so it was fun. … I feel like that is the life of a reliever to try and not get too high or low. Throw strikes and get ahead of guys. In the ninth inning I had to shut the door and that’s what I did.”
Oregon looked like it would make the ninth inning easier for Tellache when it loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth before reliever Kyle Mora struck out the first three batters in the order for the Ducks.
“When you give away an inning like that it usually sets you up for a real tough ninth,” Horton said. “Nico said ‘I’ll take care of this’ so that was pretty special.”
Horton is looking for someone to follow Kenyon Yovan and Ryne Nelson as the closer with those two in the weekend rotation. Brett Walker got Oregon’s first save of the season and Tellache the second while freshman Christian Cluffetelli is also in what Horton called his “top echelon” of relievers.
“Each and every outing we are watching very close and there are some jobs to be had,” Horton said. “They know it and we know it. We’d like to shore that up with some consistency and I’m sure they would too so we are not guessing and matching up and all that stuff.”
Tellache, who had a 6.55 ERA in 22 relief innings during his first two seasons, has allowed no hits and one run in 3 1/3 innings.
“I just want to go out there any time my name is called and be ready whenever they want me,” he said.
Oregon (5-2) broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the bottom of the sixth after loading the bases with no outs. Spencer Steer opened the inning with a single before Gabe Matthews walked and Jakob Goldfarb reached on a bunt single.
Aaron Zavala flew out to left field before reliever Josh Robins came out of the bullpen and threw a wild pitch that scored Steer. Taylor Adams was intentionally walked to load the bases and pinch-hitter Cameron Campbell followed with a sacrifice fly that put the Ducks ahead 3-1.
Tanner Smith walked to load the bases again before Robins tossed another wild pitch that brought in Goldfarb.
Oregon starter Cullen Kafka allowed four hits and one earned run while striking out a career-high seven in five innings.
Robert Ahlstrom, a North Eugene graduate, relieved Kafka and pitched two scoreless innings of relief before giving up a single to Uhl to open the eighth inning. Walker relieved Ahlstrom and Trevin Esquerra hit his first pitch over the wall in right field to get the Lions within 4-3.
“Walker did his job, he threw the ball over the plate and Esquerra hit a ball over the fence,” Horton said. “I’d rather die with somebody being aggressive throwing the ball over the plate especially on the first pitch rather than walking or hitting guys. Make them earn it. Brett has been awful good for us.”
Oregon scored a run in the bottom of the second when Matthews led off with a single and Goldfarb walked. After Zavala grounded into a fielder’s choice, Adams put down a sacrifice bunt to score Matthews.
The Lions (5-4) tied the game with a run in the top of the fourth when Kafka walked Tommy Delgado and Dylan Hirsch. With two outs, Sogard singled in Delgado.
Steer and Matthews each had two of Oregon’s seven hits as the Ducks won their fourth straight game.
“It is really important for us to get this experience early because when Pac-12 comes, it’s no joke,” Tellache said.