UCLA baseball (21-19) will conclude a five-game stretch of nonconference games with a home matchup against San Diego State (30-15) on Tuesday.
The Bruins and Aztecs last squared off April 4, resulting in a 5-4 loss for UCLA.
Bruin sophomore Justin Hooper will get the nod on the heels of his best two starts of the season. The lefty went five innings two weeks ago and 5 2/3 innings last week in a pair of games against Long Beach State, giving up one run in each outing. The latter start was his longest of the season.
“I think anybody on the West would take five on a Tuesday,” said coach John Savage. “I know some people piggyback and go two, two, two, two, one, but we’re more traditional. … We’re trying to establish another starter for the future and Hooper is a big part of our future.”
San Diego State is more likely to go with the “piggyback” strategy Savage mentioned, as the Aztec’s projected starter Logan Boyer’s longest outing of the season was three innings, and that was in February.
Boyer threw a scoreless inning in relief and ended up getting the victory in the two teams’ previous matchup after retiring the Bruins in order in relief.
When Hooper faced San Diego State earlier this year, he logged 3 2/3 innings and allowed three earned runs with three walks. Two of those earned runs came on a triple to Andrew Brown.
Though Brown hasn’t played in the Aztecs’ last five games, his .324 batting average is good for fifth on his team. San Diego State boasts nine different players who are hitting over .300, with third baseman David Hensley leading the way at .370.
The Bruins came up with seven hits from seven different players against San Diego State last month. The biggest hit was a home run from junior first baseman Sean Bouchard, which started a four-run fourth inning – the only inning in which the Bruins put a run on the board.
Senior Scott Burke recently snapped the closer’s role away from junior Jake Bird. Savage said that he likes using Bird in long relief on Tuesdays and as a setup man on the weekend. For the April 25 game, Bird threw 2 1/3 innings without giving up a run.
Hooper came out of the bullpen Saturday versus Cal Poly, throwing eight pitches and retiring two of the three batters he faced.
“You could see Hooper on maybe some Fridays, for sure Saturdays, probably doubtful on Sundays,” Savage said. “There’s bullpen days where he might be able to come get a hitter. Hey, that’s his bullpen that day.”
The Bruins’ Tuesday rematch finds itself in the middle of a short, busy week since their three-game set against USC starts Thursday instead of Friday.
Freshman designated hitter Kyle Cuellar said the team won’t get its normal day off on Wednesday, and will practice to prepare to face the Trojans instead.