The Bruins got on base a ton Friday night, but only did so via the hit five times.
No. 11 UCLA (1-0) walked nine times and got hit by a pitch another four and en route to a 7-2 victory over Portland (0-1) in Friday’s season opener at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
“It’s a getting-on-base game,” said coach John Savage. “The objective is to get to first and get around and touch home plate. We did a pretty good job of that.”
Of the Bruins’ few hits, Chase Strumpf recorded the biggest. The sophomore second baseman struck an RBI double to left in the fourth – good for one of the Bruins’ two extra base hits.
“One of our approaches is kind of just get on the fastball early,” Strumpf said. “I ambushed a fastball right away, got a pitch to hit, got some barrel.”
Strumpf also led his team with three walks on a night when UCLA’s hitters chipped away at Portland’s staff all night long. The Bruin batters forced Pilot starter Jordan Horak to throw 81 pitches over his three innings and averaged north of 4.3 pitchers per plate appearance on the night.
“I think we have matured a lot from last year,” Strumpf said. “I think we’re a lot better hitters. … We really improved over summer and through the fall, and I think tonight was a little taste of what we’ve grown into.”
Bruin starting pitcher Jake Bird was limiting hits, too. The senior took a perfect game into the fifth inning, finishing the night giving up just three hits and one run in 6 innings, striking out six in the process.
“I mean I knew about (the potential perfect game) the whole time,” Bird said. “When I’m trying to figure out who’s coming up to start the next inning, it’s real easy just to count by threes.”
Bird added that he thought his fastball and slider were his best pitches that night, to the point where he didn’t have to use his curve ball or changeup as much.
Though Bird pitched Friday’s season opener, Savage indicated earlier this week that the righty would eventually settle into the Saturday spot, with junior Jon Olsen taking Friday night.
Following Friday’s game, Savage said that his decision was still vague, and he wanted to get through the weekend before making a call. Nonetheless, he said he was happy to see Bird come get a win; Bird wasn’t drafted after an injury-ridden junior year.
“I just liked his demeanor, his aggression and his confidence,” Savage said. “He pitched like a senior, and that was good to see because he came back with a little vengeance and I think you saw a little bit of that tonight, that he’s on a mission.”
Bird gave way to a Bruin bullpen that yielded one run over three innings. Sophomore lefty Nick Scheidler and freshman righty Chase Farrell split a scoreless seventh before junior Bryan Gadsby struck out the side in order in the eighth.
Redshirt junior reliever Matt Walker allowed a run on a single and an RBI double in the game’s final frame. The Bruins’ pitching staff did not walk a batter all night.
“When you strike people out, you don’t walk people,” Savage said. “You walk and you don’t strike out. … You usually win.”
A weird play
With two on and two out in the bottom of the eight, Strumpf smacked a chopper deep in the hole at third. Portland’s third baseman didn’t field the ball cleanly, but he still had time to retire Strumpf, who slowed to a saunter on his way to first base.
Strumpf said after the game that he thought the ball was foul, and when he got down the line and looked up, no one said anything to him and the opposing first baseman was standing there dazed and confused.
“That was just me kind of playing umpire,” Strumpf said. “I should have just ran through because I was pretty close to the base anyway.”
Though freshman right fielder Garrett Mitchell was one of the most-hyped freshman on UCLA’s roster, he did not start in Friday’s game. He did enter right field as a defensive replacement late in the game.
Savage said that he sat Mitchell because the Pilots’ starter was a left-handed pitcher, but indicated that the highly touted outfielder will get his opportunity.
UCLA will face another lefty in redshirt senior Corbin Powers as the Bruins continue their three-game series against Portland on Saturday at 2 p.m. Olsen will take the mound for UCLA.