It has been almost two years since the Bruins won a game in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic.
No. 2 UCLA baseball (9-2) will play a three-game series against No. 16 Michigan (8-2) and Oklahoma State (7-4) at Jackie Robinson Stadium, before going to Dodger Stadium to take on crosstown rival USC (4-7). The Bruins will be without their everyday leadoff hitter, junior outfielder Jeremy Ydens, who has a broken finger and will be out for the next six weeks.
In the third inning of the Bruins’ win over Sacramento State (4-7) on Friday, Ydens was hit by a pitch during a bunt attempt. After talking with the training staff, he continued the at-bat and played one more inning before being replaced by senior outfielder Jake Pries. Since injuring his hand, he has yet to appear in a game for UCLA and Pries has taken his spot in the lineup.
“Whenever you lose a guy like (Ydens), it’s always a bummer,” Pries said. “I’ve been keeping up with him and we’re all excited to have him back at some point.”
Pries has started both games since Ydens’ injury, batting cleanup for the Bruins, going 4-for-7 with a home run. So far this season, Pries’ .455 batting average, seven RBI and .697 slugging percentage are all-team highs.
“He’s been very, very good,” said coach John Savage. “He’s hit the ball all over the park. He’s an experienced guy and has seen a lot at this level. It feels good to have a guy like that and to be ready to be productive.”
Freshman right-hander Jesse Bergin is the projected starter for the Sunday afternoon game against USC. The game marks Bergin’s first career start at a major league stadium and his second start away from Westwood. In his only other away start, he notched a win against Georgia Tech pitching six innings without allowing an earned run.
“Who wouldn’t be excited to play against ‘SC at Dodger Stadium?” Bergin said. “I’m super excited and ready to go.”
Bergin’s 0.51 ERA is fifth best nationwide among freshman pitchers. Despite his ERA he is focused on maintaining his consistency for Sunday’s start.
“Going into every start, I have the same routine every week and do the same thing mentally,” Bergin said. “So, nothing changes with that.”
Last year, the Bruins lost to the Trojans 3-2 at Dodger Stadium after allowing a late comeback. Then-freshman right-hander Zach Pettway threw seven strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings of relief after then-junior right-hander Jon Olsen was hit in the face by a line drive and left the game.
“I mean that moment with (Olsen) still crosses my mind because he’s a good buddy of mine,” Pries said. “I think Pettway stepped up last year, you know, and he’s obviously done a good job for us this year, too.”
Michigan enters this series ranked 16th in the country – the highest-ranked team the Bruins have faced so far this season. In 2017, the Wolverines were part of the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, at which they lost to UCLA 1-0 after a throwing error scored the game-winning run in the ninth. Oklahoma State will face UCLA on Saturday. The Bruins will be the first ranked opponent the Cowboys have played this year.
“It’s a big weekend for us,” Savage said. “A lot of good players and a lot of good teams. It’ll give us a good opportunity to get into a competitive weekend before we get into conference (play) next weekend.”
UCLA will begin the classic Friday at 6 p.m. against Michigan at Jackie Robinson Stadium.