Baseball

Washington
Today, 6 p.m.
Jackie Robinson Stadium
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As the UCLA baseball team prepares to host its first Pac-10 series of the season, its new strikeout king has a message for everyone: It’s not time to hit the panic button yet.

“If we can go out there and play good baseball, play small ball, execute on defense, execute pitches, and we see positive signs, the results aren’t everything at this point in the season,” said junior pitcher Trevor Bauer, who is now UCLA’s all-time strikeout leader. “We just want to feel good about the way we play.”

The No. 24 Bruins are just 11-9 on the season, a far cry from last year’s 22-game win streak to start the season.

“This year, people had expectations for us, and we felt a little bit of pressure,” Bauer said. “We may have neglected to take care of some of the small things we took care of last year. The way the season started out has kind of been a shock for a lot of us.”

The Bruins got off to a good start in their Pac-10 opener last week, going 2-1 against USC. They will have another opportunity to get a leg up in the conference race this weekend when the Washington Huskies (7-15) come to Jackie Robinson Stadium to play their first Pac-10 series.

Sophomore center fielder Beau Amaral said that playing well in the ever-competitive Pac-10 ““ a league UCLA was picked to win in the preseason ““ is more important to the team than playing well in the nonconference season.

“Pac-10 play is huge for us,” Amaral said. “We didn’t do as well as we wanted to in the nonconference season, so we feel that this is almost like a new season for us. We’re starting over, and we started it off right against USC.”

The Bruins believe that they’re close to turning things around, and it’s tough to argue with that. Their average margin of defeat is just 2.4 runs per game.

“It’s been frustrating,” coach John Savage said. “We’ve played a lot of tight ball games.”

The Bruins currently rank ninth in the Pac-10 in batting average but second in team earned run average, illustrating the fundamental problem that’s plagued them in their nine losses: The pitching has been lights out, but the bats haven’t been able to provide enough run support.

Bauer said he has faith in his teammates at the plate and that they’re close to getting out of their hitting slump.
“We’ll be fine on the mound, and the hitting is definitely coming around,” Bauer said. “Even though we’re not getting the results right now, we’re a lot closer to getting those results than we were earlier in the year.”

The Huskies finished last season in ninth place in the Pac-10, but Amaral said there isn’t pressure to sweep the series against a struggling Washington team this early in the year.

“We would love to sweep them, but you can’t look at it like that,” he said. “Once you start looking ahead, the game catches up to you and you don’t stay in the present moment and it’s a lot tougher.”