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#12 UCLA Hosts UC Davis To Open 2009 Baseball Season

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This year I will stick with a weekend preview each Friday and weekend recap each Monday. The previews will include a brief recap of the midweek games and the recaps will have a brief preview of the upcoming midweek games. When Pac 10 play begins (which is right around the time basketball season concludes) I will have individual game recaps shortly after the completion of each game.

A long offseason filled with summer leagues, fall practice, spring practice, the construction of a new hitting facility, a lot of downtime and a five part preview comes to an end today as the Bruins join 301 other teams around the nation in the opening of the 2009 college baseball season. The Bruins do so with a visit from 2008 regional participant UC Davis. The Aggies qualified for the postseason last year in their first year of eligibility and despite losing 13 players to the draft or graduating, including every starting pitcher, they should still be a decent team this year. While Davis is no pushover, you can bet the Bruins have circled this series as one they must win considering this series represents only three of five games this year that UCLA will play against teams that did not receive a vote in Collegiate Baseball's preseason poll.

UCLA will mix things up in their rotation for the season opener (6 pm PST). Gavin Brooks is dealing with decreased velocity, something John Savage insists is not health related and instead due to poor mechanics, so sophomore Rob Rasmussen will get the start on Friday night. Rasmussen is one of Savage's favorites and was drafted by the Dodgers out of high school. Rasmussen went 0-2 with a 5.60 ERA last year, but he never really got a fair shake. The southpaw was struck on the foot by a line drive in his first start of the season, which broke his foot and kept him out for 10 weeks. He did make a return late in the season, but struggled to find any sort of rhythm after missing so much time. Rasmussen will attack hitters with a improved fastball that is now in the low 90's, but his go to pitch is a great 12-6 curveball that is as good as you'll see from a collegian. Rasmussen will also show a developing change against righties and slider against lefties. Opposite Rasmussen will be the Aggie's senior right hander Jeremy McChesney. McChesney returned to the mound last year after missing all of 2007 due to injury and made 20 appearances out of the bullpen. He went 2-2 with a 4.10 ERA and opponents batted .282 against him.

Saturday's game (2 pm PST) will see UCLA's freshman sensation Gerrit Cole make his first collegiate start versus Davis' record holder for appearances, Andy Suiter. Cole was a first round pick of the Yankees, but chose to don the blue and gold instead of the pinstripes. Recently chosen by Rivals.com as the preseason Freshman of the Year, the 6'4'' Cole brings to the table a high 90's fastball with last life, a devastating slider and changeup that only looks mediocre in comparison to his other pitches. If he can hit his spots, the Aggies will just be wasting their time making a walk to and from the batter's box. Interestingly, Davis' starter Suiter began his career at UCLA, but transferred after redshirting in his only year in Westwood. Suiter worked out of the bullpen last year for Davis and made 30 appearances, a school record. He was a 2008 All-Big West honorable mention after going 6-2 with a 4.61 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 41 innings. One thing to keep an eye on is how many innings Suiter can go. He's never gone more than 4.1 innings in a collegiate game before.

Sunday's series finale (1 pm PST) will pit UCLA's junior Charles Brewer and Davis' sophomore Tom Briner against each other. Brewer came into UCLA with a lot of hype and while he's been a solid pitcher for the Bruins, you'd have to consider him a disappointment thus far. The good news for Brewer is he still has the tools to put together a dominant season and live up to the hype. He has a fastball that can reach the mid 90's and a couple breaking pitches that have good tilt to them. Brewer's issues have always been a tendency to drop his arm, which cuts out the movement out of his fastball, and an inability to find the plate. When Brewer gets ahead in the count he's nearly untouchable, but he hasn't done that nearly enough in his UCLA career. Last year Brewer got fantastic run support and tied for the Pac 10 lead with nine wins, but he had a 5.10 ERA to go with it. Throwing on Sunday should give Brewer an easier matchup so the pressure is off for now. Toeing the rubber for the Aggies is Briner, a guy with little experience. Last year as a freshman, Briner only threw 11.1 innings so he will be a bit green, even as a sophomore. He had a 1-1 record last year and 7.15 ERA so the Bruins should have the edge on the mound, but players usually take their biggest step forward between their freshman and sophomore years so Briner could surprise.

The Bruins own a definite advantage both in the bullpen and with the gloves. The UCLA bullpen goes deep with talent and experience. There's a good mix of young guys and upperclassmen as well as flamethrowers and junk guys. On the other side, Davis has some talent, but little experience and are right handed heavy. On the field, the Bruins have range, as well as sure hands. While they will be breaking in a new double play combo, they have an excellent defensive outfield. UC Davis is not only breaking in some new guys, but they have some speed issues in the outfield. Both teams are going to have a new catcher behind the plate.

With the bats you'd like to say UCLA has the advantage, but that's only the case because nobody has any idea what to expect from the Davis with the sticks. The Aggies return only three starters from last year and are still a little unsure of who will start for them this year. The Aggies have some nice talent to choose from so we will likely see some changes in the lineup from day to day. The Bruins have questions of their own at the plate, but have just a little more stability than Davis. UCLA should get great production from Casey Haerther, but all eyes will be on Alex Weber-Shapiro, Gabe Cohen and Cody Decker. Weber-Shapiro will have an opportunity to shine, especially late in games when the left hander will have the opportunity to see a lot of Davis right handers, but he is making the jump from D-III to D-I so it's no sure thing he'll produce. Cohen and Decker have both proven that they can be impact hitters, but both struggled mightily in 2008. With a few inexperienced guys around them in the lineup, it will be important for the Bruins that Cohen and Decker have a good year and that starts this weekend.

Come welcome in the 2009 baseball season at Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend. Game times are Friday at 6 pm PST, Saturday at 2 pm PST and Sunday at 1 pm PST. For those of you going to the basketball game on Saturday, you can hop on over to JRS following the game and probably not miss more than an inning. Tickets for this season are $7 for adults, $5 for children and free for Wooden Club card holders. If you can't make it out to the games, you can listen to it or follow it on GameTracker via the official site. GO BRUINS!!!

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Links:

Rivals.com released their regional projections and they have the Bruins hosting a regional as a #2 seed with Pepperdine as the #1 seed (Pepperdine cannot host a regional because the NCAA now requires lights).

If you want to see what goes into the construction of a college baseball stadium, check out this article from Baseball America. Also, if you want to see what new and massively renovated college baseball stadiums nationwide are starting to look like, as well as some commentary from coaches and designers, take a look at this.