Cal State Fullerton pitcher Colton Eastman reacts after getting out of a jam against Long Beach State in a super regional at Blair Field on June 11. (Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)
Colton Eastman figured that nothing good was going to come out of a trip to the dentist, but this hit him in two places.
It was February, and the Cal State Fullerton pitcher discovered that he needed to have his wisdom teeth removed. It coincided with tightness in his elbow, and he found out the two issues were related.
“They said the nerves in my teeth were connected to my arm,” Eastman said.
The Titans erred on the side of caution and shut down Eastman, a preseason All-American pick as a sophomore this season, for more than two months. They now appear to be a potentially big pain for opponents in the College World Series.
Rested and eager, Eastman gives Fullerton a No.1-caliber starter at its disposal just in time for the double-elimination tournament that starts with Saturday’s matchup against Oregon State.
Eastman’s return seems to set up the Titans well, particularly if they absorb a loss. Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook ideally can use him as the third starter, behind Connor Seabold and John Gavin, and he even opened the possibility of Eastman coming out of the bullpen.
“It just gives us more depth,” Vanderhook said. “Just to have another quality body and arm and competitor to put in there, it’s not hurting us one bit right now.”
Eastman started the deciding Game 3 of last weekend’s super regional and no-hit Long Beach State through five innings of an eventual 2-1 win that clinched a berth to Omaha.
Eastman’s pitch count has increased incrementally from 39 pitches in his May 14 return to 106 last Sunday.
“He’s still getting his feel back, which is the scary part, because he’s not all the way there yet,” Seabold said. “But once he gets there this season, we’re in really, really good shape.”
In the small sample size of his college career, Eastman already has shown that he likes this stage. In his college debut last season, he retired the first 16 batters against Stanford. Eastman bookended that in the regular-season finale when he went a career-high 8 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts against the Dirtbags to clinch the Big West title.
Eastman, a Fresno product who says he wasn’t recruited heavily by Fresno State, has had that penchant for clutch play since late in his high school career.
“I’m a really intense guy when I get into it,” Eastman said. “I like large crowds. I like everyone watching one player — the pitcher.”
Fullerton takes a similar swagger into the opener, even as the third-place team from the Big West. The Titans are not nationally seeded, but they welcome a matchup against the No. 1 Beavers.
“That’s what we wanted, because we know we’re better than them,” Seabold said. “We know we can beat them. If we play the better game, we’ll win. That’s what we’ve got to believe.”
Oregon State won’t have ace Luke Heimlich, but Jake Thompson helped lead the Beavers to a nation’s best 1.80 ERA. The Beavers (54-4) haven’t lost since April 29.
“Shoot, Oregon State’s lost four times this year so I’m sure we have a good chance,” Vanderhook said jokingly after the Titans clinched the matchup.
Vanderhook had his players do extra running drills to prepare them for Omaha’s humidity. He thinks that might make the Beavers uncomfortable.
“I hope it’s really, really hot,” Vanderhook said. “I don’t think they’ve seen any humidity. Maybe they run out of juice a little early. We’ll see what happens.”
Seabold wilted on Omaha’s stage two seasons ago when, as a freshman starter, he lasted 2 1/3 innings in a loss to Louisiana State.
That loss sent the Titans home. They were “two-and-barbecue,” to invoke the phrase used when a team goes 0-2 and has nothing left to do but enjoy the food in Omaha.
Redemption comes with a challenge for those Titans who haven’t played in as big a venue as TD Ameritrade Park, in a nationally televised setting.
“I’ll still be nervous,” Seabold said. “There’s going to be up to 3,000 people at the stadium, especially for the opening game, so it’s going to be a little nerve-wracking. But once I settle down, and get into my rhythm, I’ll be fine.”