Friday, December 13

UCLA senior right-hander Garett Claypool prepares for tonight’s game against Cal State Fullerton

Senior right-hander Garett Claypool, the Bruins' usual Tuesday pitcher, prepares for Titans in his 26th career start

Garett Claypool, boasting 107 career strikeouts in 53 appearances, is the Bruins' midweek starter. Claypool was selected in the 32nd round during the 2009 MLB draft but decided to finish his fourth year at UCLA hoping to reach the College World Series.

Garett Claypool, boasting 107 career strikeouts in 53 appearances, is the Bruins' midweek starter. Claypool was selected in the 32nd round during the 2009 MLB draft but decided to finish his fourth year at UCLA hoping to reach the College World Series. Daily Bruin file photo

Most college students regularly spend their Tuesday nights hitting the books, doing homework or preparing to go to class early the next morning.

Garett Claypool does indeed have a routine, but it generally involves something a little different.

The senior starting pitcher from West Hills will take the hill tonight for No. 3 UCLA (23-1) against Cal State Fullerton (15-11), and he is certainly accustomed to toeing the rubber in midweek contests that are generally reserved for regional nonconference showdowns.

Entering his final go-round as a Bruin, Claypool had started 25 games in his three seasons, each one coming in midweek action. As a freshman, he posted a 3-1 record and a 1.82 ERA in Tuesday starts, and he continued to shine in that role as his career progressed. This season, he has been close to unhittable. Claypool already has a 3-0 record, with an ERA of 1.21. Opponents are hitting just .160 against him, and he has struck out 37 batters in 29 and two-thirds innings.

“I’ve been trying to go out there and make every pitch, from the first one I throw to the last one I throw, a strong one,” he said. “I take it one pitch at a time.”

The big event for Claypool between his junior season and this one occurred in June, when he was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 32nd round of the MLB draft. The right-hander made the decision to return for his final season, a choice that has worked out pretty well for all parties.

“He’s been unbelievable, you can’t say enough about him,” said coach John Savage, who tried his best to contradict that latter statement. “I mean the guy gets drafted, has an opportunity to sign with Oakland, comes back for his senior year and accepts the role. Never been to Omaha (the site of the College World Series) as a player, he’s coming back on a mission.”

Good luck trying to get Claypool to acknowledge that pitching against elite non-Pac-10 programs like Cal State Fullerton or UC Irvine is anything special.

“I think it’s pretty much the same (as facing anyone else),” he said. “A team is a team, and I’m going to go out and attack whoever it is.”

College teams customarily use their best starters during the weekend series, particularly because those usually involve conference foes and are crucial to the conference standings. That said, UCLA players and coaches readily admit that Claypool pitching on Tuesdays is a testament to the strength of a starting staff that includes Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Rob Rasmussen.

Perhaps the biggest difference between pitching in the middle of the week and the weekend is when to throw in between starts. For Claypool, those workouts can come in more critical situations than an average bullpen session. On Saturday, he came in relief of Rasmussen during UCLA’s win over Stanford.

“I rolled the dice a little bit,” Savage said of going with Claypool, who gave up a hit and a walk and recorded just one out before he was pulled. “He wasn’t quite sharp. You only have a 25-man roster on the weekends, so you’re limited. How can you have him not on the 25-man?”

As far as tonight’s matchup with Cal State Fullerton goes, Savage has no qualms about going with his Tuesday guy, despite any struggles he may have shown out of the bullpen over the weekend.

“Claypool getting back to himself (will be key),” Savage said. “He’s been unbelievable on Tuesdays. I think it’s a matter of him getting back to his comfort zone on Tuesday nights and pounding the zone and building off (Saturday), really.”

The senior’s experience and mound moxie has already come in handy on multiple occasions thus far.

He’s been the starter in two of UCLA’s closest victories this season, a 3-2 win over UC Riverside on March 9 and a 2-1 win over Pepperdine on March 30.

The Bruin bats, which were fairly quiet against the Waves a week ago, appeared to wake from their brief slumber when they put up seven runs against Stanford on Saturday. Run support could prove crucial in backing Claypool against the Titans, a perennially elite program.

“We got back to the way we were swinging the bats, and our pitchers have always been dominant,” shortstop Niko Gallego said. “We’ll be ready for (Fullerton), and they’ll be ready for us. It’s going to be a good one.”

The game with Fullerton will mark the next big test for the Bruins as they look to build off a start in which they have won 23 of their first 24 games. While that kind of success may be uncharted territory, the figure on the mound tonight will be a familiar one.

Tuesdays for Garett Claypool are becoming what Tuesdays are for most people: just another day at the office.

“You’ve just got to give him a lot of credit,” Savage said. “For his perseverance and his belief in the program and his belief in himself.”

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