Oregon State baseball rides ‘gross’ and ‘wicked’ Bridger Holmes to win over Cal State Northridge

Bridger Holmes

Oregon State Beavers reliever Bridger Holmes has been unhittable this season.Mario Terrana

CORVALLIS — Rich Dorman has called the pitch “gross.”

Mason Guerra has labeled it “wicked.”

And Bridger Holmes, well, the newest and perhaps most lethal weapon out of the Oregon State bullpen has a more modest assessment of his borderline unhittable slider.

“It’s pretty good,” he said, smirking.

Holmes and that slider were better than good Friday night, when he overpowered the Cal State Northridge Matadors in the ninth inning to preserve an 8-6 Oregon State win at Goss Stadium.

The 6-foot-4 junior sidewinder earned his first career save by striking out the side in the final inning, polishing off the Beavers’ eighth consecutive victory and nudging them to 13-1 on the season. It’s the program’s best start to a season since 2018, when Oregon State opened its national championship chase with a 20-1 record.

Jacob Krieg went 2 for 5 with a home run, double and three RBIs, Travis Bazzana finished 2 for 3 with two walks and two stolen bases and Elijah Hainline went 3 for 4 with a double, as the OSU offense reached double-digits in hits for the eighth time this season. Also, Ian Lawson (2-0) earned his second win of the season with three innings of scoreless relief, rebounding from last week’s dud.

But it was Holmes who caused a stir among the 3,324 at Goss Stadium on Friday.

He entered the game with runners on first and second and no outs in the ninth, and mowed through the heart of the Matadors’ order, striking out No. 3 hitter Kevin Fitzer, cleanup hitter Nathan Barraza and pinch hitter Will Linberg on 11 pitches. They were all sliders. After the last one was thrown, Holmes pumped his fist and screamed into the Corvallis night sky, releasing a celebratory exhale.

The right-hander has pitched both games of this series so far — striking out six of the seven hitters he has faced — as that ballyhooed slider has befuddled Cal State Northridge hitters. But the Matadors (9-4) are hardly alone.

Holmes has made five appearances this season and he has not yet surrendered a run, giving up just three hits while striking out 13 over 8 1/3 dominant innings. He’s 2-0 with a save and has been a revelation for the Beavers, who have used him in long relief, short relief and — for the first time Friday — as a closer.

“The guys love when he’s in the game and he’s just got big confidence, man,” OSU coach Mitch Canham said. “When you’ve got a slider that’s moving like that, maybe you don’t need to throw a whole bunch of anything else.”

Holmes was barely recruited out of North Bend High School, so he chased his baseball dreams at Feather River Junior College in Quincy, California, bringing an overhand throwing motion and a fastball that topped out between 85-88 miles per hour. He had often tinkered with a sidearm pitch, however, and during his freshman season at Feather River he started using a three-quarter delivery. As a sophomore, he dropped his arm slot even lower, his slider — which was always above average — took off and his fastball started touching 90. He went 7-1 and recorded 92 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings in a starting role.

“It was actually totally on my own,” Holmes said, when asked about the evolution of his delivery. “I’ve just always kind of had a nice sidearm delivery, I guess, and I figured why not use it. It kind of just naturally happened. I was getting erratic with my arm slot when it was up higher, so I just moved it down and it’s been a lot better to get more movement on my pitches. It’s been great.”

So great that Marty Lees, the one-time Oregon State assistant who coached Holmes at Feather River, reached out to Dorman to suggest he take a look at the kid from Coos Bay. Next thing Holmes knew, he was sitting in the Goss Stadium clubhouse as a recruit, receiving a scholarship offer. For a kid from Oregon, it was a dream come true.

“I wasn’t going to say no to (a chance to play) here,” Holmes said, laughing. “This place is a big deal. And watching these guys growing up, I mean, it’s Oregon State baseball. It’s crazy.”

He had a couple rough outings at the beginning of fall camp, mostly because of nerves. But once Holmes settled in and convinced himself he belonged, he’s became practically unhittable. Under the guidance of the Beavers’ athletic training staff, he started a new weight-lifting regiment and adopted a new diet, and the results have been astonishing. His fastball now reaches 94 and — along with that “gross, wicked” slider — has been a nightmare for opposing hitters.

Multiple times this season, a hitter has buckled or cowered at the plate, assuming a sweeper off Holmes’ fingertips is heading for his midsection. Instead, the pitch darts away from his body at the last second and crosses over the plate for a strike.

More than one hitter has looked silly, including six so far in this series.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” Holmes said of his start at Oregon State. “But it’s been great.”

Next up: The Beavers and Matadors continue their four-game series Saturday at 1:05 p.m. at Goss Stadium.

Joe Freeman | jfreeman@oregonian.com | 503-294-5183 | @BlazerFreeman | Subscribe to The Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and top stories.

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