Three more games came and went for UCLA baseball over the weekend, and the Bruins showed no signs of being anything other than the middling team they’ve been throughout the first half of the season.
“We’ve just got a lot of work to do,” Savage said. “It’s tough to watch at times – certainly the inexperience and the overmatched situations of some guys – but we’ll bounce back … It’s a pretty critical part of our season right now.”
Savage’s Bruins, who lost just one series last season, have now lost three straight weekend sets. Just over halfway through the regular season, the Bruins are under .500, with losses in eight of their last nine contests.
The bats have gone cold for UCLA. Sure, they mounted a ninth-inning rally to snag a rare victory Friday night, but the Bruins have tallied just 15 runs over the past seven games, batting a measly .229 in that period.
The middle of the order, though it hasn’t hit for a ton of power, has not been to blame for the recent struggles.
Redshirt senior right fielder Eric Filia, sophomore first baseman Sean Bouchard and junior third baseman Luke Persico – who have settled into the 3-4-5 spots of the lineup – have batted a combined .350 in the past seven games. The rest of the team is hitting .130.
Bouchard has been a particular bright spot for the Bruins. His recent string of production has earned him a reputation with opposing pitchers.
Bouchard came to the plate with two down and a runner on first in the first inning Saturday. After a wild pitch advanced the runner to second and left a base open, Stanford starter Brett Hanewich took a very cautious approach with Bouchard, walking him on four pitches.
It’s hard to blame Hanewich for not challenging Bouchard – the big sophomore has carried the load for the Bruin offense recently. He’s driven in 23 runs in the Bruins’ last 18 games, with a gaudy line of .415/.465/.569 during that stretch.
“He’s turned it up a little bit of a notch, and there’s a threat there,” Savage said. “He’s hitting the ball all over the ballpark. Stanford couldn’t get him out.”
Bouchard has just one home run on the season, but it’s a good bet that he will add to that total.
“He has power – you can tell that,” Savage said. “He’s a long, projectable right-handed hitter that can loft the ball so he’s going to hit some home runs, for sure. He’s a prospect with the bat.”
The Bruins would like Bouchard to start driving some balls out of the park. The team currently has the fewest home runs in the Pac-12, with just six long balls on the season and none in the past 11 games.
Hitting has never been the forte of Savage’s UCLA teams, but the trademark pitching and defense haven’t been there this season either.
The pitchers have cut down on their early-season wildness, generating the conference’s lowest walk rate in league play, with just 2.19 free passes issued per nine innings. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been effective – the Bruin arms are striking out fewer than seven per nine innings and opposing batters have tagged them for a .268 average in conference action.
“We’ve thrown more strikes,” Savage said. “We’ve given up a lot of hits; we’ve never given up hits, but we’re giving up hits.”
With the recent news that sophomore shortstop Nick Valaika may miss the entire season, the Bruins will have to weather the storm without any reinforcements.
“We are what we are,” Savage said. “We know what we have, and we’re not getting any help from any other sources.”
To turn the season around, UCLA will need to win series like the one against Stanford.
“There was an opportunity to beat a good Stanford team at home two out of three, and we weren’t able to do it,” Savage said. “But there’s still a lot of baseball left.”