Bialosky likes cleaning up 

Nino Giarratano watched as Mitchell Bialosky walked up to the lineup card and smiled.

After two-plus years of seeing his name next to the No. 8 or 9 spot, the USF first baseman had been bumped up to the cleanup spot for a March 2 game against Baylor.

And following a performance in which he ripped three hits in five at-bats and drove in two runs in a 5-4 loss to the Bears, he hasn’t moved since.

"He was saying ‘Whoa, watch out now, this is the first time I’ve been above [No.] 7 since I’ve been in college,’" said Giarratano, the USF baseball coach. "I kind of thrust him into that role because we needed a run producer and his emergence has been great for our ballclub."

Bialosky has thrived since moving up in the order, relying on better balance and rhythm to hit .356 with 16 RBI in the 20 games since the shift. Just don’t ask the 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior to recite his numbers from memory.

"I haven’t even looked at the stats — that stuff’s evil," Bialosky said. "I won’t look at it at all until at least the end of the season. I’m just trying to do the best I can for the team and come through when I can."

Evil or not, the numbers can provide a fair sketch of just how far Bialosky has come. He hit .249 in 57 games as a sophomore, slugging four home runs and driving in 22. This season, he has already eclipsed his 2006 RBI total with a team-high 25 and is batting .347 with two homers, a .446 slugging percentage and a .387 on-base percentage.

USF (16-15, 1-2 West Coast Conference) is preparing for a three-game series against rival Santa Clara (15-15, 2-1) beginning today at 3 p.m. at Benedetti Diamond. Friday’s game is at 11:30 a.m. at AT&T Park for the Dante Benedetti Classic. Saturday’s game is 1 p.m. back at Benedetti Diamond.

"Mitchell is one of those guys you can point to and see how the hard work has really paid off," Giarratano said. "He has made himself into a really good college hitter and he deserves a lot of the credit for it."

The right-hander has also seen time on the mound this season as one of USF’s midweek starters, going 0-4 with a 5.47 ERA. He has shown some good signs though, having struck out 25 and walked just seven in 26¹/³ innings pitched.

And while Bialosky’s offensive game is just now starting to take off, he has long been known as a superb defensive player at first base, a position often manned by shaky-fielding sluggers. In fact, Giarratano called him "one of the best defensive first basemen I’ve ever coached."

"I take a lot of pride in my defense and I love to be able to pick up the other infielders with a scoop on a ball in the dirt," Bialosky said. "I’ve really worked hard at trying to master the position."

melliser@examiner.com

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