The UCLA Bruin baseball team (31-7, 11-4 Pac-12) will play its second-to-last regular season series this weekend, as they host the Utah Utes (12-22, 4-14 Pac-12) at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The first pitch of tonight’s game is at 6 pm PT.
After an April in which the Bruins will have only left Southern California once — their roadtrip to Stanford, UCLA will play three of its last four Pac-12 series on the road — at Arizona State, at Washington State, and at Oregon). UCLA also has three more non-conference games, only one of which is at home.
As such, this series is an opportunity for the Bruins to rack up home victories against the second worst team in the Pac-12.
Last Time Out
On Tuesday night, UCLA traveled across the LA basin to face a Cal State Fullerton team that has not lived up to the usual standards of Cal State Fullerton baseball. The Bruins won comfortably, by the score of 8-3.
UCLA struck first in the top of the fourth inning when Jake Pries smashed a two-out, two-run home run to left center field to put the Bruins up, 2-0. Pries accounted for UCLA’s third RBI of the game as well in the fifth inning, drawing a bases loaded walk to increase the Bruins lead to 3-0.
In the top of the sixth, UCLA got another two-run home run. This time, it was from Garrett Mitchell. Originally ruled an RBI triple, the umpires conferred and ruled that the ball cleared the fence and caromed back onto the field off the netting in center field.
UCLA’s 5-0 lead was quickly reduced to 5-2 in the bottom half of the sixth, however, on an RBI double followed by a bases loaded sacrifice fly. It could have been worse, as the Titans stranded runners on second and third to end the inning.
UCLA would go on to score single runs in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, thereby scoring in six straight innings against CSUF. The Titans would score one in the ninth also on a swinging strikeout that should have ended the game but was also wild pitch to the backstop, allowing the batter to reach first base and a runner on third to score.
Freshman Jessie Bergin earned the win for the Bruins, throwing five innings and allowing only one run on three hits, and raising his record to 4-0.
The Utes have the second worst record in the Pac-12 this season. Like Cal State Fullerton, the problem is not Utah’s hitting. The issue is Utah’s pitching.
The Utes have only one pitcher with an ERA under 4.26. That’s Jack Liffrig, who has an ERA of 0.90, but has only thrown ten innings on the season. Both of Utah’s listed starters this weekend have earned run averages above 5.00. Tonight’s starting pitcher for Utah is Riley Pierce, who has a 1-5 record and an ERA of 6.08. In his last three starts, however, Pierce has at least lasted through six innings. In his first six starts, he never made it past five innings, including a one-inning start against Oregon.
Utah does hit a respectable .272 batting average as a team and has three everyday starters batting over the .300 threshold. Junior second baseman OIiver Dunn leads the team in batting average (.370), slugging percentage (.593), walks (25), and doubles (15). Dunn typically leads off.
Senior outfielder Erik Migueles, who usually hits out of the three hole, is batting .323 with six home runs and 34 RBI to lead the team in both categories. If the Bruins can minimize the damage from these two, they should have a productive weekend.
The first thing that caught my eye when I saw the projected starting pitchers is that former Friday starter Zach Pettway is not listed to start any of the three games. If you have closely followed UCLA baseball the past few weeks, you know that Pettway has struggled in three of his last four Friday outings. A move from the Friday starter spot was not unexpected.
What is unexpected is that UCLA’s starting pitcher on Sunday is not listed as Pettway, but TBA. Is Pettway less than 100%? Or might Head Coach John Savage give Jessie Bergin, who has pitched well all season, another opportunity on Sunday? We will see.
Whomever is pitching on Sunday, however, should be pitching for the sweep. Although Utah hits well, they have the advantage of altitude when playing at home. Further, when they have faced pitching of the quality of UCLA’s this season (i.e., Stanford and Oregon State), they have been swept in both series. On the other hand, Utah’s pitching staff allows 5.9 runs per game. With the way the Bruins have been scoring runs of late and averaging over 6.2 runs per game on the season, scoring against the Utes shouldn’t be an issue.
Ryan Garcia (4-0, 1.35 ERA), who was projected to be the Friday starter but missed the first few games of the season due to injury, will finally pitch in that role when he takes the hill for the Bruins tonight.
This is your UCLA Bruins versus Utah Utes baseball game one open thread.