After a week in which it did not play a midweek game (it will also not do so next week), the UCLA Bruin Baseball Team (8-7) opens PAC 12 today against the Washington State Cougars (7-9) First pitch today is at 4:00 p.m. PT at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
UCLA started the week of March 7th terribly, with a 20-12 midweek loss to Cal State Northridge, followed up by a 7-5 Friday loss to the Texas Longhorns, which saw UCLA strand 16 runners. The Bruins bucked up in the last two games of the series, winning last Saturday’s contest, 5-4, on a walk-off home run by Kort Peterson and taking Sunday’s rubber match in comeback fashion, 6-3, scoring five runs in the bottom of the 6th inning, eclipsing Texas’ 2-0 lead. Sunday's win was freshman, Kyle Molnar’s first win in a UCLA uniform.
Wazzou is coming off a series win over Northeastern, taking three of four games from the Huskies last weekend. The weekend before, WSU lost three of four from Utah Valley in Pullman. The Cougars have played a weaker non-conference schedule than UCLA, and have a worse record. Washington State was picked tenth out of eleven teams in the PAC 12 Preseason Media Poll.
After a very slow start, UCLA’s team batting average is slowly increasing from week to week, now sitting a hair below .250, at .248. The Bruins continue to be led by Kort Peterson (.377, 2 HR, 11 RBI) and Eric Filia (.368, 1 HR, 11 RBI). Both players get on base almost half the time (.493 OBP). Luke Persico is hitting .283, and starting to step up to becoming more of a clutch player for the Bruins.
Sean Bouchard, Trent Chatterton, and Brett Stephens are slowly nurturing their batting averages higher. More importantly, at least in the last two games, UCLA got the timely hits when they needed them. Hopefully that will continue this week.
Nick Valaika was supposed to have returned from injury by now, but we have yet to see him in game action. Hopefully Nick can break into the lineup soon.
Grant Dyer is back! UCLA Head Coach John Savage, however, is not reinserting him as the Friday starter. Rather, Dyer will start on Saturday and Coach Savage will throw Griffin Canning on Friday night. I think that is a good decision. Molnar, who pitches better with each start and whose ERA is slowly going down, will get the call again for the Bruins on Sunday.
UCLA’s bullpen is a mixed bag, with some players, like Moises Ceja (1.12 ERA, 8 IP), Scott Burke (2.65, 17 IP), and Brian Gadsby (3.65 ERA, 4 saves) pitching well, and others, like Hunter Virant and Justin Hooper, pitching not so well. Perhaps this series will allow the latter guys some innings in some less pressure situations.
Wazzou’s team ERA is a decent 4.50 (UCLA’s is 4.99). The Cougars’ Friday starter, Ian Hamilton, is winless in four starts. It appears that he has not gotten much run support, since his ERA is 3.04. Hamilton has 23 strikeouts in 23.2 innings pitched.
On Saturday and Sunday, WSU will start freshman, Ryan Ward and Parker McFadden, respectively. Neither pitcher has suffered a loss.
It does not appear that the Cougs have a dedicated closer, as three different pitchers have recorded a single save for Washington State. Ryan Walker has one of those saves, and he has some other nice numbers, with 17.2 innings pitched, a 1.53 ERA, and 12 strikeouts to three walks.
Washington State is hitting the ball well, with an excellent team average of .293. Three guys are hitting around .400, including lead-off hitter and second baseball Trek Stamp (.415, 0 HR, 7 RBI), center fielder Dugan Shirer (.438, 0 HR, 4 RBI), and Patrick McGrath (.393, 2 HR, 12 RBI). It appears that McGrath is a bit banged up, as he did not see action last weekend. It will be interesting to see if he plays against UCLA.
The following are the dates, times, and anticipated starting pitchers for the series:
Friday, March 18, 4:00 p.m. PT:
UCLA – Griffin Canning, RHP, So. (2-1; 2.63 ERA)
WSU—Ian Hamilton, RHP, Jr. (0-4, 3.04 ERA)
Saturday, March 19, 2:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Grant Dyer, RHP, Jr. (0-1, 5.14 ERA)
WSU—Ryan Ward, RHP, Fr. (1-0, 4.20 ERA)
Sunday, March 20, 12:00 p.m. PT
UCLA—Kyle Molnar RHP, Fr. (1-1, 5.21 ERA)
WSU—Parker McFadden, RHP, Fr. (2-0, 3.86 ERA)
Two of the three games will be televised on the PAC 12 Networks, including tonight’s game, and Sunday’s game!
UCLA needs to start PAC 12 play on the right foot. The Cougars do not have a good record against weak competition and were picked to finish tenth in the PAC 12. This is a series that UCLA should sweep at home, but something tells me the Bruins will stumble in one of the games. I predict a series win for the Bruins, but not a sweep. I would be delighted if UCLA proved me wrong.
This is your UCLA vs. Washington State, Game One open thread.