After a surprising series loss to unranked California last weekend, UCLA is now stuck in a three-way tie for second in the Pac-12.
No. 21 UCLA baseball (16-7, 6-3 Pac-12), which has lost three of its last four games, will have to leave its Pac-12 frustration behind as it returns to midweek play against Loyola Marymount (13-14) on Tuesday night. The Bruins beat the Lions handily earlier this season with a 12-1 victory March 6.
Freshman right fielder Garrett Mitchell, who did not play when the two teams last met, returned from a concussion this past weekend. Mitchell will most likely get the nod in right with junior right fielder Jeremy Ydens, now sidelined with an unspecified injury.
Back at full strength, Mitchell says he is looking forward to making an impact for his team right away.
“It was definitely frustrating not being able to play and help the team in any way that I could,” Mitchell said. “I was pretty well-committed to this week, to go out and play all weekend.”
Coach John Savage said after Saturday’s loss that UCLA sorely missed Ydens, who was 3-for-6 with two RBIs against LMU in March. However, he was complimentary of Mitchell and his potential contributions to the Bruins down the road.
“Mitchell’s going to be a very good player, he just needs reps,” Savage said.
Four UCLA batters had multiple hits against LMU in March, highlighted by sophomore designated hitter Jack Stronach’s 2-for-4 performance in which he racked up three RBIs. Despite tallying 12 runs, the Bruins did so on just five extra-base hits.
UCLA is currently fourth in the Pac-12 in both extra-base hits and home runs. While they did get homers from junior center fielder Daniel Amaral and sophomore second baseman Chase Strumpf in their series against Cal last weekend, the Bruins have still allowed more home runs than they have hit.
Their total offense has also dropped off recently, averaging 2.3 runs per game over their last four games, after averaging 7.2 in the previous five.
With UCLA struggling to find extra-base hits, the pitching staff has been unable to pick up the slack on the mound, ranking dead last in the conference with 17 home runs allowed. With a lot of pressure falling on the Bruins’ bullpen following a slew of injuries to their starters, Savage pointed out the importance of his left-handed relievers to the team’s success.
“We only have two left-handers coming out of the bullpen, and those guys are going to be pitching a lot,” Savage said. “They’re used to it, and they have to get those left-handed hitters out.”
UCLA will take the field at 6 p.m. Tuesday night at George C. Page Stadium, with a weekend series at home against No. 2 Stanford on the horizon.