Standing outside the clubhouse of Jackie Robinson Stadium on Tuesday night, Adam Plutko paused and then smiled.
When Plutko takes the mound tonight against Arizona (29-17, 10-11 Pac-12) in the first of a three-game Pac-12 conference series, it could be the final regular season home start of his career.
“This is the first time I’ve thought about that,” said the junior starter, when asked about the prospect of tonight potentially being his final home start. “Jackie Robinson’s been great to me in my career and I love it here, and love it so much that I’ll just enjoy another start.”
The Bruin ace, who was recently named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list for the premier college baseball player, will be draft-eligible at the end of the year. No. 8 UCLA (31-14, 14-7) is hosting its final weekend series of the regular season, and will not play another home game unless it is chosen to host an NCAA regional.
Depending on if Plutko leaves for the draft and how the Bruins finish the year, tonight could be the final time the junior climbs the mound at Jackie Robinson for UCLA.
Arizona comes in as the defending national champion, having beaten UCLA in a College World Series game last year, but also a shell of its former self. The Wildcats are under .500 in conference play and are coming off a series loss to the Washington Huskies, a team the Bruins swept at home earlier this season.
“Arizona’s a great ballclub. They have great coaching and they’re going to compete, and we really have to compete with them,” said sophomore right fielder Eric Filia. “Yeah, they’re defending national champions and everything, but that was last year and this is this year.”
With one conference series left at home, UCLA coach John Savage conceded after Tuesday’s nonconference loss that the Bruins are somewhat concerned with their left-hand dominant lineup.
When Cal State Northridge brought on a lefty reliever in the middle of the game, he was able to get out of a jam with two on and no outs. During that middle stretch of the game, the southpaw faced eight Bruins, seven of who were left-handed, and was able to get six of those batters out, neutralizing the UCLA offense.
Savage said at times the Bruins’ left-handed hitting lineup has been a “roadblock” for the team.
“We just don’t have enough right-handed bats. It’s concerning,” the coach said. “We’ve dealt with it all year and we’ve kind of dodged it to be quite honest. Either we’ve pitched well enough or we played good defense or we won 4-3. … We could’ve won (Tuesday) really.”
Despite suffering a 4-1 defeat in the nonconference matchup against CSUN, UCLA has won its last three conference series, including a sweep of Utah last week. The Bruins have set the tone in all three of those Pac-12 series, winning the opener of each with their ace on the mound.
Sporting a 6-2 record with a 2.68 earned run average on the season, Plutko will try to help the third-place Bruins keep pace in the Pac-12 race. UCLA has won in each of his last five starts.
“They played us tough last year and we played them tough, too,” Plutko said of the Wildcats. “It will be a great weekend series and we’ll do what we always do – just take it one game at a time.”