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Slumping Bruins Head To Okahoma To Battle #16 Sooners

The Bruins lost to #12 Pepperdine, 5-4, on Tuesday at Jackie Robinson Stadium, their seventh consecutive loss. UCLA jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but let the Waves take a 4-3 lead a half inning later. UCLA did even up the score in the bottom of the eighth, but Pepperdine hit a homer in the ninth to win it. The Bruins now stand at 2-7 on the season as they head to Norman, Oklahoma to face off with the #16 Sooners. Oklahoma is 9-3 on the young season with wins at San Diego and Washington St. so they've proven themselves against some quality competition. Baseball is a funny game and when you're struggling, it seems as if everything goes against so the Bruins will need to get off to a good start this weekend if they want to bust out of this slump.

Friday's game (1 pm PST) will feature UCLA's Rob Rasmussen and Oklahoma's Andrew Doyle. Rasmussen is 1-0 on the year with a 2.45 ERA. Last weekend in Houston, the southpaw gave up three first innings runs to Rice, but battled the rest of the way and didn't surrender another run. He's been using his curveball to perfection as the 12-6 breaker has given a fair share of hitter jelly legs early on. He's added some velocity to his fastball as well and is getting good run on it to keep hitters honest. The Sooners' Doyle hasn't been outstanding, but he's done enough to keep his team in the game. The junior righthander has a 1-1 record and 3.46 ERA this year as he's been hit rather often, but doesn't give away free passes. Doyle has walked only two this year and struck out 14, but opposing batters are hitting .275 against him. The Bruins appear to have the edge on the mound in the opener, but this will be Rasmussen first start in a true road game so he may have some jitters early on.

UCLA will have to change their rotation up on Saturday (10 am PST) as Charles Brewer will take to the hill in place of Gerrit Cole. Cole had some blister problems at the tail end of his start last weekend and while it looks like he'll be able to make a start this weekend, head coach John Savage is going to push him back until Sunday to give him an extra day. Brewer has plenty of experience on Saturdays as he made a fair share of Saturday starts last year. Brewer's numbers have been solid this year, but he hasn't gone deep into a game so he has taxed the bullpen. He picked up the loss last weekend versus Irvine, his first decision of the year and has a 3.60 ERA, but he has gotten better in each appearance. He was very shaky in his first start of the year, showed improved command in a relief appearance, then looked strong last weekend before poor defense behind him did him in. Oklahoma will send Antwonie Hubbard to the mound with the hope that the hard thrower will be able to use his 95 mph fastball to blow the Bruins away. Hubbard is 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA this year, but hasn't shown the ability to strike guys out like you would expect from a guy with his stuff. Hubbard had a good summer in the Alaska Baseball League and parlayed that into a strong fall so he has proven he can get batters out, but he's going to need to start getting ahead of hitters.

UCLA should have Cole on the mound for them on Sunday (11 am PST), but it is no guarantee. Officially, the Bruins have yet to announce a starter for the series finale as they monitor the blisters on his pitching hand. If Cole can go, he should give the Bruins a major advantage on the hill. The freshman has yet to allow an earned run (he's allowed two unearned), has 15 strikeouts in 12 innings and opposing batters are batting only .083 against him. If Cole cannot go, the Bruins can turn to either Matt Grace, who has made two mediocre midweek starts or Garret Claypool who has worked mostly out of the bullpen last year and this year, but was a Freshman All-American as a midweek starter two years ago. The Sooners have yet to announce a starter for Sunday as well and don't have a clear cut leader for the job. Garrett Richards was a great reliever for the Sooners last year and was given a chance to get into the rotation this year, but hasn't fared well thus far (9.82 ERA). CJ Blue is another candidate for the start, but like Richards, has struggled (7.11 ERA). If Cole can go on Sunday, the Bruins will have to keep a close eye on his blisters, but will have a major advantage is he can get into the middle innings.

The Sooner bullpen has been very good at the top so far this year, but has really struggled as they go deeper into the bullpen. Their three best relievers, Kaleb Herren, Jarrett Semler and Levi Rhoades, all haven't given up a run this year and Tyson Seng has been good, but after that the ERA's of the Sooner 'penners are very high. The Bruins continue to get great work from Brendan Lafferty out of the bullpen, but really need Jason Novak to find the form of the past couple years. Lafferty has gone 10.1 innings so far and has allowed only one earned run, but Novak has a 12.0 ERA. Trevor Bauer continues to show his promise, but like most young guys, is prone to that one bad pitch that hurts him.

To say the Sooner offense is dynamic would be an understatement. In their nine wins this year, Oklahoma has scored at least 10 runs seven times. Eight of their nine regulars have a batting average over .300 and six Sooners have scored at least 10 runs this year. The Sooner power comes from a little guy, 5;8'' OF Jamie Johnson. Johnson already has five homers this year to go along with three triples and five doubles. Infielder (I couldn't give him a more specific position because he plays EVERYWHERE) Matt Harughty is leading the Sooners with 20 RBI and has two round trippers of his own. As expected, the Bruins leading hitter is Casey Haerther, who is batting .472 with a couple home runs this year. Haerther did see his 19 game hit streak dating back to last year end on Tuesday versus Pepperdine, but he'll look to start a new one this week. Blair Dunlap continues to play well and his .394 batting average and six stolen bags was rewarded versus Pepperdine when Savage moved him to the leadoff spot. A key for UCLA this weekend will be the health of Gabe Cohen. The junior, hitting .333, came out of the game last Saturday with a bad ankle and hasn't played since, although he is expected to play this weekend.

To say this weekend is a huge series for the Bruins would be an understatement. Currently 2-7, UCLA cannot afford to drop many more games in non-conference play, especially with a weekend trip to East Carolina still on tap. If the Bruins continue to struggle, they'll find themselves seven or eight games below .500 and with a major hill to climb just to get into a regional. If they can pull out a series win in Norman this weekend though, they can carry some momentum into a pair of midweek games and their trip to ECU next weekend, leaving them in decent position for a strong Pac 10 season and possible regional host. Any of that begins with a good weekend versus the Sooners though and to get the series win they're looking for they'll have to take care of the basics. Throw strikes, get bunts down, hit behind runners and catch the ball. Seems simple enough and hopefully the Bruins can get it done.