On Tuesday, the UCLA baseball team saw what can happen when things spiral out of control on the mound.
In an 11-1 loss to Long Beach State, freshman pitcher Cody Poteet struggled in his start and the No. 9 UCLA Bruins fell into an early hole that they never could crawl out of.
Struggles at the plate are nothing new for the Bruins this season. UCLA (25-12, 9-6 Pac-12) currently has no hitters batting above .300 as it heads into a conference series starting today at Washington State.
“You’re only as good as your starting pitcher – it’s the old Eric Karros saying – and Poteet didn’t have a very good start and put us in a hole early,” said coach John Savage. “Long Beach took advantage of some mistakes and you’re looking up at eight-nothing after three innings so you’ve got to give Long Beach credit.”
Savage acknowledged the team’s offensive struggles have led to some players pressing too much to make up for it.
After a superb 5-0 start to his season, sophomore pitcher Grant Watson has struggled of late, losing his past three starts. The coach attributed Watson’s recent problems to trying to do too much to compensate for a slumping offense.
“Clearly, we haven’t scored a lot of runs and we’ve played a lot of tight games. I just think he’s feeling the pressure in terms of making perfect pitches, having to go out there throwing up zero after zero, and you can’t pitch like that,” Savage said. “He’s put a little pressure on himself … but we have a lot of faith in Grant. He’ll get his mojo back.”
Watson had a good reason to think he’d need a near perfect outing in Sunday’s loss.
Despite winning two of three at then-conference-leading Oregon last weekend, UCLA had to do so by being flawless on the mound.
The Bruins took the first two games of the series by posting back-to-back 1-0 shutout victories for the first time in school history.
While pitching has gotten the team out of trouble at times this season, the loss Tuesday showed UCLA that it has to find some way to get its scuffling offense going.
“We just have to change some things,” said junior designated hitter Kevin Williams. “The good thing about this is I don’t want to say it’s rock bottom or anything, but we’re at a low and the great thing about that is you can come out and start firing shots, just let it all hang out and see how it works.”
Sophomore third baseman Kevin Kramer was the team’s lone bright spot on offense Tuesday, finishing 2-for-3 and scoring the Bruins’ only run.
Now at the halfway point of the conference season, with 15 games to go beginning with this weekend’s three-game slate, Kramer said it’s important for the team to remain unified even when things don’t go well at times.
“(We need to) stick together as a team – I think that’s the most important thing,” Kramer said. “It’s easy to stick together as a team when you’re winning, but when you lose, it’s a little more tough.”