In the first of four games which UCLA baseball coach John Savage said he considers as tough a stretch as the West has to offer, the Bruins labored in an area they’ve been so good in for most of the season – pitching.
A strength for the team all year, the Bruins struggled on the mound Tuesday night in a 9-6 loss to the No. 4 Cal State Fullerton Titans.
The defeat was the team’s third in its last four games. UCLA allowed its second-highest run total of the season Tuesday after giving up a season-high 10 runs Sunday.
“It’s been so good all year,” said Savage of the pitching.
“You’re going to have games (where they struggle), and we haven’t pitched well the last two games really. We’ve got to get back on our feet.”
Junior starter Adam Plutko, the ace of the pitching staff, will get his chance tonight to help No. 10 UCLA get back on track when it hosts No. 6 Oregon State at Jackie Robinson Stadium in a three-game series.
Plutko himself has lost his last two times out, including a defeat last week against Arizona State, despite pitching a complete game.
After dropping their first series of the season last weekend on the road against the Sun Devils, the Bruins (18-7, 6-3 Pac-12) were hoping to start their four-game home stand against some of the West’s best on the right foot. They didn’t.
“It was about another opportunity to get better and really change what happened this weekend, and we definitely didn’t do that,” Plutko said of the loss to Fullerton. “We need to play better. (Tuesday) was not acceptable.”
What the Bruins have done best for the majority of the season is pitch and play defense. Last Saturday, that wasn’t the case, as UCLA had to battle back on the strength of its lineup, scoring a 12-10 win, its only victory of the series against Arizona State.
“We’ve got to get back to our approach and identity. We’ve kind of gotten away from it a little bit,” said junior shortstop Pat Valaika.
“We’ve got to come together as a team and be tough outs and throw strikes and play hard.”
UCLA will need to bounce back quickly from its shaky stretch of baseball.
The Bruins are currently looking up in the conference standings, as the visiting Beavers (23-4, 5-1 Pac-12) are second in the Pac-12, one spot above back-to-back defending Pac-12 champion UCLA.
“We’ve got to play better. The bar has been set and we didn’t answer the bell at Arizona State and we certainly didn’t answer it (against Fullerton) so we’ve got to turn it around – and we will,” Savage said.
“There are a lot of good players (on the team) and they’re used to winning. Now is the time to get after it.”