Usually, a reliever’s role doesn’t span more than an inning or two.
But on Tuesday night, when freshman starter Cody Poteet was pulled early in the fourth, fellow freshman James Kaprielian came in and found his groove, staying put on the mound for almost four innings.
Kaprielian only allowed one run, but it wasn’t enough to change the course of the game. UCLA was already in a four-run hole started off by a three-run homer from No. 4 Cal State Fullerton. The Bruins ultimately lost to the Titans 5-2.
Kaprielian came into the UCLA program billed as a closer, but missed time early on with injury. That hasn’t halted his development, however, as shown by a strong outing on Tuesday that featured five strikeouts against a powerful offensive squad.
“(Kaprielian’s performance) was exciting,” coach John Savage said. “We really think he’s going to be one of the strongest pitchers in the country over the next few years. He’s talented and hardworking, he’s got all the right stuff.”
While Kaprielian’s role has shifted around this year, he has had nearly a full year to learn from one of the best bullpens in college baseball.
It’s a learning opportunity he has tried to take full advantage of, no matter when he’s called upon.
“Whenever I get my name called on, I put up a zero for my team whether it’s the first or the ninth inning,” Kaprielian said. “I’ve gotta be ready to go. Part of being a freshman is learning from older guys and the staff, it’s been a great learning experience.”
Since long before Kaprielian’s time, UCLA has had a reputation as a strong away team, so players didn’t look at Fullerton’s rough away crowd as an excuse for the loss.
“Fullerton’s a great team, but every field’s the same. … The game’s all about shortening it up, taking it slow, playing at your own pace,” Kaprielian said.
The Titans didn’t necessarily overwhelm the Bruins with their offense – the two teams were relatively even in the stat box – but Fullerton managed to snag key opportunities that UCLA did not.
“The difference was really that three-run homer. … We gave them too many opportunities, but that’s what good teams do. They take advantage of those chances,” Savage said.
Even though the Bruins were outscored, they played a strong game against one of the nation’s top teams, a fact not overlooked by UCLA’s players.
“I mean our pitchers threw well, they got a few big hits, other than that both teams had good at bats,” said junior center fielder Brian Carroll. “It just didn’t turn out in our favor, sometimes that’s how it is.”