UCLA is rolling, holding a perfect 6-0 record and playing extremely well. Even so, while the Bruins have done the most with what has been put in front of them, they have not played exceptional competition and that will continue this weekend with Nebraska in town for a three-game set.
The Cornhuskers were one of the nation's best teams over a four-year stretch from 2005-2008, qualifying for the postseason each year, earning a #1 Regional seed three times and being named one of the eight national seeds in two of those years. In a complete 180, last season was not kind to the Huskers and a 25-28 season resulted in the end of their postseason streak. This season, Nebraska got off to a poor start, losing their first three games of the year at Fresno St., but they do have some talented players and have won three of their last four.
Just as last season was not kind to the Huskers, the rain has not been the Bruins' friend. A week after having their Saturday game versus Oklahoma St. rained out, UCLA has had to be changes to their schedule to account for the rain forecasted to hit the Los Angeles area on Saturday and Sunday. Now, the Bruins will play visiting Nebraska in a Friday doubleheader, with a third game on Saturday. If Saturday's game is washed out, they will try to play it on Sunday.
The first game of the Friday doubleheader (2 pm PST) will see Gerrit Cole toeing the rubber for the Bruins. Coming off of a five inning, four hit, two run start versus Vanderbilt with eight strikeouts, Cole is 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA this year. Having gone just 11 innings in two starts this season, Cole will look to be more efficient versus Nebraska, In a doubleheader, a bullpen will be stretched and it is imperative that Cole pitch deeper into the game to spare them some.
Opposite Cole will be the Huskers' right-handed sophomore, Sean Yost. Yost, who is 1-0 with a 4.66 ERA this season, is a big kid at 6'6'' and has flashed exceptional stuff in the past, but has lacked consistency. A 2009 Northwoods League All-Star, Yost will also need to go deeper in games having managed just 8.2 innings in his two starts.
UCLA will send Trevor Bauer to the hill in game two of the Friday doubleheader (6 pm PST). The sophomore was skipped last weekend when rain washed out his scheduled Saturday start so when Bauer pitchers this week, it will be his first start in two weeks. In his lone start of the season, Bauer gave up a pair of home runs that accounted for three runs in his eight innings of work, but he did set a career-high with 13 strikeouts.
Nebraska's Michael Mariot will get the nod for the visitors on Friday evening and he was look to improve upon what has bee a rough start to the season. The junior has lasted just five innings in each of his two starts, giving up five runs in the first and then three in the second. Opponents have hit .350 this season off of Mariot and he brings a 0-1 record and 7.20 ERA this season.
The final game of the series will be played on Saturday at 2 pm PST, but if that is rained out, the two teams will try to play on Sunday at 11 am PST. Rob Rasmussen will start for the Bruins in their series finale and will be looking for his first decision of the year, having failed to pick one up in his first two starts. Rasmussen got knocked around to the tune of four runs in 3.2 innings in his first start of the year, but bounced back with 4.2 innings of one-run ball versus USC last week. The junior has been overpowering this year, averaging roughly 14 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Huskers will have their best pitcher this season going on Sunday in freshman right-hander Tom Lemke. A 10th round pick of the Rangers in the 2009 MLB Draft, Lemke has allowed just one run in in 10.2 innings this year, giving him a 0.84 ERA this year. Lemke has picked up wins in each of his two starts and has held opponents to a .237 batting average. The standout freshman will be a major challenge for the Bruins' offense on Saturday (or Sunday).
The Cornhuskers' offense has been less than stellar this season. They have only been shut down once, but they've made a habit of scoring in the three to five run range, which is below average. Nebraska lacks power, having hit just three this season and no hitter has more than three extra base hits this season. They do have two exceptional hitters in DJ Belfonte and Adam Bailey. Bailey has the three extra base hits with two doubles and a home run and a .419 batting average o boot. Belfonte leads the team with seven RBI and a .467 batting average. If the Bruins had keep those two hitters in check, the rest of the Nebraska offense will struggle to generate runs.
The Bruins will look to continue their hot hitting ways against the Cornhuskers and show the type of defense that has them third in the conference in fielding percentage. With Nebraska starting three right-handers this weekend, odds are UCLA head coach John Savage will feature left-handed hitters in all three contests. Freshmen Beau Amaral (.421 batting average), Cody Regis (.412 batting average) and Cody Keefer (.400 batting average) will be center stage yet again and the middle infield combination of Tyler Rahmatulla and Niko Gallego can be expected back in the lineup. The two have started all six games this season, the only two right-handed hitters with that distinction, but the entire lineup, from top to bottom, can expect a heavy dose of changes between games one and two of the doubleheader on Friday.
While Nebraska is down this year, winning games against a Big XII opponent usually results in a nice RPI boost so picking up wins this weekend is vital. Game times for the Friday doubleheader are 2 pm PST and 6 pm PST. Saturday's game will be at 2 pm PST, but if it rains, they will try to get the final game in Sunday at 11 am PST instead. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for youth 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. You can also stay up to date on all things UCLA baseball from game updates to news to analysis to links on my UCLA baseball twitter.