Baseball

MINNESOTA
Jackie Robinson Stadium
No TV

At the end of last season, the UCLA baseball team was on a roll. Starting pitching, hitting, good fielding and relievers – every piece of the equation came together just in time for the postseason.

But then UCLA stumbled in key games during the College World Series, robbing them of the title.

Instead of letting all of that get them down, though, the Bruins are focused on doing it right this season, up until the very end.

“We left Omaha with a feeling of unfinished business, and I think this year we’re focusing not just on getting there but actually winning,” said junior shortstop Pat Valaika.

UCLA had a contingent of powerful juniors who made up its entire outfield and much of the infield taken in the MLB Draft last year. Now the team comes into 2013 with a new lineup, but not an unprepared one.

Outfielders such as juniors Brian Carroll and Brenton Allen spent little time in the outfield last season, instead stepping up to the plate in late innings to pinch hit. The time they spent on the bench, though, was not a waste as far as Valaika sees it.

“Those guys on the bench got to watch and you can learn a lot from just watching, and they’ve turned it into a positive, they’ve gained that knowledge,” Valaika said.

This year, the Bruins return the same consistent pitching that they had last season.

Their only loss is closer Scott Griggs, but sophomores David Berg and Grant Watson return, as do all of their starters – juniors Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig will continue to start on the weekends, and sophomore Grant Watson will shift from the Tuesday night starter role to weekends.

Junior Zack Weiss, who started many Sunday games last season, will now come out of the bullpen. UCLA will also bring some young blood into its seasoned pitching squad. Freshman Cody Poteet will take the mound on Tuesdays, and freshmen James Kaprielian and Hunter Virant will help out in relief.

“With Virant and Poteet and Kaprielian we’ve added a lot this year. … We have a depth that we feel pretty good about,” said coach John Savage.

Plutko, the Friday night starter last season, was named to the Preseason Golden Spikes Watch List on Thursday. The Golden Spikes Award goes to the top college baseball player in the country.

And while the team feels like they have unfinished business from last season, they know that focusing on wins isn’t what will get them there.

As a leader on the team, Plutko is advising his younger teammates to settle in and have fun, with the season opening today with a weekend series against Minnesota.

“What I’ve passed down to them is to not put too much pressure on yourself, it’s meant to be fun … it is a game and you’re lucky to be playing it,” Plutko said. “I’m excited about this team.”

Email Coghlan at ecoghlan@media.ucla.edu.