CORVALLIS - With all the excitement about fellow freshman pitchers Greg Peavey, Josh Osich and Kevin Rhoderick, Tanner Robles' presence was lost in the shuffle through the early going of Oregon State's baseball season.
The 6-4, 200-pounder out of Murray, Utah, is out front in the minds of Beaver fans after solid outings against Stanford and Arizona State and a sensational performance against Arizona.
Robles twirled a masterpiece in Saturday's 4-3 victory over the 20th-ranked Wildcats, allowing two hits and two runs over 7 2/3 innings, with no walks and seven strikeouts.
The fireballing southpaw was juiced after a fourth-inning confrontation with Arizona slugger C.J. Ziegler, who took umbrage after being hit by a pitch. Suffice it to say that Robles didn't back down - at that moment nor for the rest of the game. He retired 11 batters in a row, striking out the side in the seventh inning.
Ziegler 'is a senior, a big guy, and he starts to the mound,' Oregon State coach Pat Casey says. 'And Robles says, 'Let's go. Bring it right out here.'
'I always say, whatever you fear in athletics hunts you down and exposes you. Tanner has no fear. And the longer you coach, the more you realize how important that quality is.'
Robles didn't want to leave the game with nobody on base and two outs in the eighth inning, though he understood why Rhoderick was being called upon to close the important victory.
'After that fourth-inning incident, I got pumped up and kind of found my groove,' Robles says. 'I felt better at the end of the game than I did early.'
Casey is thankful Robles - selected in the 14th round of the 2007 draft by the Los Angeles Angels - turned down good signing bonus money and chose the Beavers over Cal State Fullerton, Cal Irvine and Arkansas.
'The coaching staff here was the biggest thing,' Robles says. 'And back-to-back national championships - I love to win.'
Robles has known nothing else through his brilliant career. Arguably the finest schoolboy pitcher in Utah history, he finished his high school career 33-0, with a remarkable 344 strikeouts in 158 innings the final three years.
'Tanner was ranked the No. 1 left-handed prospect in America after his junior year in high school,' Casey says. 'We liked everything about him. He got recruited everywhere in the country.
'I did a home visit at 10 o'clock at night, and he said, 'Every other head coach in the country has told me, come to my campus. I want to talk to you. You showed up here.' I think that helped.'
At Oregon State, Robles is 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA and 26 punch-outs in 31 1/3 innings. He held second-ranked Arizona State to three hits and one earned run in six innings in a 12-3 victory. Against Arizona, he was even better.
'It's something to see when Tanner is like that,' says senior catcher Erik Ammon, an excellent receiver who worked Robles' last two outings. 'He just has this look - his body language, his eyes - that says, 'I'm coming right after you. I don't care who you are, how good you hit. My stuff is going to be better than your swing right now, so let's go ahead and do this.' '
Next: Oregon State (20-14, 8-7) has a busy week ahead, with games at Gonzaga today and Wednesday and a three-game series starting Saturday at Washington State. The Zags (25-18, 7-7 West Coast Conference) have won seven of their last nine games and own a team batting average of .315, with eight regulars over .300. The 24th-ranked Beavers - alone in third place in the Pac-10 behind Stanford and Arizona State (both 10-5) - probably will start freshmen James Nygren and Josh Osich at Gonzaga.
• The Beavers are 6-6 against Arizona, Arizona State, California and Stanford.
Coach Pat Casey is impressed with his young players and 'guys who haven't had a lot of playing time - (second baseman) Lonnie Lechelt, in particular, and (catcher Erik) Ammon.'