Pac-12 play starts for the UCLA baseball team tonight and the first conference series of the season is a doozy. The Bruins (12-3) welcome the Oregon State Beavers (13-1-1), winners of the 2018 National Championship, to Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend in a #2 versus #3 match-up (per D1Baseball.com). If #1 Vanderbilt stumbles at #19 Texas A&M this weekend, the winner of this series could be the new #1.
Last Time Out
UCLA traveled to Blair Field on Tuesday to face Long Beach State. What is usually a challenging match-up should not have been, as the Dirtbags are 2-13 on the season. In their defense, LBSU opened the season at #5 Florida and later played #9 Ole Miss in Oxford and were swept in both series. The Dirtbags’ schedule has been one of the toughest in the nation.
The Bruins appeared to be looking ahead to Oregon State, but still prevailed over LBSU by the score of 2-0. UCLA scored its first run on the first pitch of the game, when sophomore right fielder Garrett Mitchell hit his first home run in a Bruin uniform.
The only other run came in the fifth inning on a Mitchell RBI infield single to second base.
UCLA only had four hits in the game, two of which came from Mitchell. Long Beach State never scored and their .212 team batting average shed light on why the Bruin pitching staff was able to shut them down. Frankly, the game reminded me a lot of the last game of the Sac State series, which the Bruins lost 2-1 and seemed disinterested.
UCLA used seven pitchers against the Dirtbags including Ryan Garcia, who threw two innings in his first start of the year, giving up only one hit. Freshman Sean Mullin got the win, pitching 21⁄3 innings of scoreless relief, although he allowed three hits.
Let’s be clear, at least from a hitting perspective, four hits and two runs is NOT going to get it done against the national champs.
UCLA received bad news earlier this week. Freshman pitcher Nick Nastrini, who did well allowing no runs in his two starts and 10.1 innings this year, has been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and will miss the remainder of the season.
With Nastrini out and Garcia back, Head Coach John Savage is being coy about who will be the Sunday starter versus the Beavers, with both listing their Sunday pitchers as TBA. Jessie Bergen started the other Sunday games this season. Is Bergin healthy? Or is Garcia ready to join the weekend rotation, moving Bergin to Tuesday?
Oregon State Beavers
Some predicted that, after winning the natty last year, losing several core players, and losing their head coach the legendary Pat Casey (who coached the Beavers for 24 years, went to Omaha six times and won three National Championships there), this could be a bit of a down year for Oregon State, especially since both UCLA and Stanford were returning strong squads.
Well, so far, that has been far from the case. OSU looks like one of the best teams in the nation, with a great shot to make it back to Omaha. The Beavers have lost one game, to West Virginia. They also tied ranked Coastal Carolina in 11 innings.
Once again, OSU has great pitching with a staff ERA of 2.30. Junior Grant Gambrell (0-0, 2.92 ERA) gets the call tonight for the Beavers. He has been a hard luck Friday starter so far this season, as he has pitched well but has not won a game. Jake Mulholland, who had 16 saves last season, returns as OSU’s closer.
The Beavers have two everyday starts hitting .400 or better: Adley Rutschman (.414, 6 HR, 16 RBI) and Alex McGarry (.400, 1 HR, 12 RBI). Rutschman’s slugging percentage is an obscene .846. The Beavers get on base over 38% of the time.
This is a potent and powerful team, and will be UCLA’s biggest test of the season.
I wish that I was more optimistic, but I do not feel great about this series. Part of the reason is that two players that UCLA was counting on to have big seasons, Michael Toglia and Kevin Kendall, have performed below expectations so far this season. Kendall, hitting .162, is now losing starts to players who are hitting the ball better, like Jack Stronach and Ryan Kreidler.
The other reason is that, although UCLA has won three games, their performance over the last four has left a lot to be desired. The Bruins should not be struggling for wins against the likes of Oklahoma State, Southern Cal, or Long Beach.
Still, UCLA is hitting only .003 less than OSU and the Bruins sport a gaudy 1.79 ERA. At this point, I am going to say that the Bruins will split the first two games and, then, who knows about Sunday, since the pitching match-ups have not been announced.
This is your UCLA baseball versus Oregon State Beavers open thread. Sound off in the comments.