The UCLA Bruins baseball team kicks off its 2020 campaign with a three-game series this weekend against the UC Riverside Highlanders. Game one is tonight at Jackie Robinson Stadium. First pitch is at 6 pm PT.
Check out our 2020 UCLA season preview for a detailed look at what you can expect from your Bruins this season. Simply stated, UCLA loses four starting positional players who contributed greatly in 2019 and the Bruins will fill those spots with relatively inexperienced players in the program. Guys like Jarron Silva and Jake Moberg will need to step up offensively to fill the big shoes left by the departure of the likes of Michael Toglia and Chase Strumpf.
Further, returning starters, Garrett Mitchell, Kevin Kendall, and Matt McLain will all be in new positions (CF from RF, 2B from SS, and SS from CF, respectively). Noah Cardenas is the only field player who will be back in the same position from 2019.
Junior right hander Zach Pettway will take the hill for the Bruins tonight. Pettway began last season as UCLA’s Friday starter before nagging injuries resulted in an underwhelming 2-2, 4.55 ERA season and, ultimately, forced him out of the rotation. With his injuries all healed up, UCLA Head Coach John Savage expects big things from Pettway this season. It all starts tonight.
The Highlanders are coming off a 20-36 season, going 8-22 on the road. They are led by Head Coach Troy Percival, who was a great closer for the California/Anaheim Angels from 1995 to 2009. This will be Percival’s fourth season coaching at his alma mater.
Tonight’s starter, Cole Percival, did not pitch in 2019 due to a stress fracture in his elbow sustained while falling down a flight of stairs. As a freshman in 2018, however, Percival was 5-4 with a 3.19 ERA in 2018. Yes, Cole Percival is the head coach’s son.
At the dish, UCR has to replace a lot of production from 2019. Conner Cannon (.319, 18 HR, 44 RBI) and Dean Miller (.365, 14 HR, 49 RBI) are gone. Cannon’s 18 dingers were tops in the Big West Conference. Cannon and Miller were first and second on the team in home runs and RBI. With those two players leaving in the MLB Draft, and other departures, UCR lost hitters who accounted for 39 of the Highlanders’ 50 home runs last season.
Center fielder Travis Bohall does return and he hit .339 last year, but only knocked in nine runs and never hit a round-tripper. Bohall, who is expected to hit lead off for UCR, did steal 16 bases last season. Third baseman Nathan Webb, who hit five home runs last year, also returns. It appears that the Highlanders will attempt to rely on pitching, defense, and speed on the base paths in 2020.
Both teams lost hitting and power from 2019, and both will rely more on “small ball,” pitching, and defense in 2020. That having been said, the Bruins have more talent than the Highlanders, and UCLA should win this series, if not sweep it outright. Anything less than a series win would be a disappointment for the Bruins.
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