The UCLA baseball team (3-4) finishes its four game road trip at UC Santa Barbara (7-1) this afternoon, in a rare Tuesday afternoon game, starting at 2:00 p.m. PT. The Bruins cannot peek ahead to this weekend’s Dodgertown Classic, featuring some big games, including one against the Trogans and another against Mississippi State, who may be seeking revenge for 2013.
No, UCLA cannot overlook the Gauchos, who have started off red-hot this season, right where they left off in 2015. The Gauchos hosted a regional last year, in Lake Elsinore of all places, where they did not advance (Virginia actually came out the Lake Elsinore Regional to win it all), but still finished a strong 40-17-1. Several key components from that team are back this year. The same, of course, could be said about the Bruins.
UCSB has had a fine start to its 2016 campaign. The Gauchos swept four games from the University of San Francisco, suffered their only loss in a midweek game against St. Mary’s, 7-4, and then went on to win the Tony Gwynn Classic, beating Kentucky, Bryant, and USD, all in convincing fashion. UCSB is crushing it with the bat (two players are hitting .500 or above and four players have 7 or more RBI) and is also getting solid pitching.
UCLA started off the season poorly, losing the series to North Carolina and getting pounded at home by Long Beach State in last week's midweek game. The Bruins seemed to have turned the corner after a pair of road victories over Cal Poly last weekend, first in nail-biting fashion, 7-6, and then in a series winning 19-0 beat down. On Sunday, however, the Bruins played another game like their first four, losing 6-2, while committing four errors, getting poor starting pitching, and only mustering six hits. Alas, the brooms did not come out against SLO.
So now sits UCLA, three wins and four losses, with string of tough games on the slate, including the one this afternoon. The Bruins have dropped in the polls each week, from preseason top 10, to around #15, to now around #20. In an interesting move, it appears that Head Coach John Savage will make his first starting pitching change of the season, as freshman Justin Hooper will start on the mound in place of Hunter Virant.
The Bruins hit much better last weekend. 18 hits in 19 runs in one game will do wonders for the statistics, and the Bruins also banged out 11 hits in the Friday night game. Kort Peterson and Eric Filia continue to lead the Bruins, hitting .417 and .346, respectively. Brett Urabe is also hitting well at .333. Christoph Bono is coming around. The Bruins have four triples. On the other side of the coin, lead-off hitter Brett Stephens is really struggling, with one hit in 26 at-bats (.038). If Trent Chatterton (.133) doesn’t start hitting, I would not be surprised to see Urabe get some starts once Pat Valaika returns from injury.
After Hunter Virant’s disastrous 1.2 inning start last week, in which he gave up four runs, Coach Savage will look to another left-handed pitcher, freshman Justin Hooper, for today’s midweek start. Hooper hasn’t exactly pitched well, sitting with a 9.00 ERA, but in Coach Savage we trust. Scott Burke (7.2 IP, 2.31 ERA) has pitched very well in his four relief appearances this year, in case Hooper gets in trouble.
The Gauchos are absolutely destroying the ball. Sophomore catcher Dempsey Grover is hitting .550 with 7 RBI. Sophomore first baseman Austin Bush is hitting .500 with 8 RBI. Senior third baseman Ryan Clark is hitting .481 with 9 RBI. Those are some darn good numbers through eight games.
UCSB has three other guys hitting over .320, centerfielder Andrew Calica (.345), second baseman JJ Muno (.333), and shortstop Clay Fisher (.324).
And they’ll be hitting at home against a freshman starting his first game. So there’s that.
UCLA will face sophomore righty Chris Clements, who will take the hill for the Gauchos. Clements appeared in three games this season, with one start. He’s pitched 8.1 innings and surrendered only two earned runs, for an ERA of 2.16. Clements has registered 10 strikeouts. Clements was the starter in UCBS’s sole loss this season, the midweek game last week to St. Mary’s, where he gave up two runs in 3.1 innings, getting no decision in the contest. Can the Bruins get to this kid?
UCLA – Justin Hooper, Fr. LHP (0-0, 9.00 ERA)
UCSB—Chris Clements, So, RHP (0-0, 2.16 ERA)
The Bruins have their work cut off for them. UCSB is hitting the ball better than the Bruins and the Gauchos' starting pitcher comes into the game with better numbers than his UCLA counterpart. If UCLA plays the game that it is capable of playing, it will get the win. But you never know in baseball . . .
The first pitch is at 2 p.m. PT. If you are reading this at work, you can still listen to John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm call the game while you respond to all the e-mails that need your attention before the end of the day. Or you can take a peek every so often at the live statistics while you bang out that letter on your keyboard.
This is your UCLA vs. UCSB baseball mid-afternoon open thread.