This season’s rotation looks a little different from 2018.
No. 2 UCLA softball (17-1) has reworked its pitching staff this season, transitioning from a rotation centered on a single pitcher to one focused on balancing time between the whole group.
“I think that what you see is more of a calculated approach versus anything else, making sure everyone has the experience so they can help, and be successful in 2019,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez.
The rotation is led by redshirt junior pitcher Rachel Garcia – the reigning USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year – who is picking up right where she left off last season, going 7-0 so far with a 0.58 ERA and striking out at least 10 in five of her six starts.
Garcia was also responsible for the bulk of the pitching duties in 2018, going 29-4 with a 1.31 ERA in 208 innings. In comparison, sophomore pitcher Holly Azevedo only pitched 115 2/3 innings over the course of her freshman season, and Selina Ta’amilo and Johanna Grauer – who have both since graduated – pitched just 105 innings combined.
But so far this season, the Bruins have shifted the division of labor in a more equal direction, as each pitcher has started six games. And while Garcia has still pitched the most innings at 48 2/3, Azevedo and freshman Megan Faraimo are not far behind with 33 2/3 and 32 2/3 innings, respectively.
“We have the pitchers, period. With (Garcia, Faraimo and Azevedo), they’ve all done an outstanding job so far,” Inouye-Perez said. “We also know it’s not easy for one pitcher to do it alone, so we want to give everyone as much experience as possible – all three of them.”
As the second-most used pitcher after Garcia, Azevedo was an integral part of last season’s rotation. She went 15-0 in 2018, and is already off to a similar start this season, going 6-0 with a decisive win over No. 3 Florida.
“I think she has one of the best change-ups in the country, if not the best,” Inouye-Perez said. “She was a big part of our very successful season last year, and now she’s a year older.”
The team has also benefited from the addition of the 2018 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year in Faraimo. In nine appearances for the Bruins, Faraimo has gone 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA, and has already recorded two no-hitters against Fresno State and Colorado State.
The pitching staff has also been able to pick up the slack when the Bruin offense has been unable to produce runs.
In UCLA’s game against UConn in the Judi Garman Classic, Azevedo gave up just a single base runner over her five innings of work, holding off the Huskies until the Bruins were able to break through late in the game.
“It definitely is a confidence booster and reassuring to know that our pitchers have our backs,” said junior outfielder Bubba Nickles. “Just seeing that their hard work is paying off, and how it’s really helping us on the defensive side of the game, it’s really encouraging us to work even harder.”
With Pac-12 play under two weeks away, this new rotation will be tested as the Bruins fight to return to the College World Series.
“As a staff we need to have each other’s backs, especially if we’re not on our A-game,” Azevedo said. “It’s just that, knowing that we can depend on each other.”