Brett Stephens gave UCLA baseball fans hope for a comeback Friday night.
With Washington up 5-1 in the bottom of the sixth, the senior left fielder clobbered a changeup well over the right field fence for a two-run home run to cut the deficit to two. But the bomb failed to jumpstart the offense in the game’s final frames.
Despite Stephens’ field day at the plate, the Bruins (13-14, 6-4 Pac-12) struggled on offense all evening, tallying just three hits altogether in a 7-3 loss to the Huskies (17-11, 5-2).
“We couldn’t walk a straight line tonight,” said coach John Savage. “I thought we were poor defensively. I feel like we didn’t know where the ball was defensively. I thought our pitching was poor, and I thought our offense was very poor. … They won more innings than we did, and ultimately, that’s the name of the game.”
UCLA came into the series on a tear offensively, boasting a .329 team batting average in conference play and outscoring its opponents 89-62 in the previous nine games. After the team’s first at-bat of the game, it looked like the beginning of another Bruin hitting barrage.
Stephens pulled a 3-2 fastball over the right field fence to give UCLA an early 1-0 lead. But after the game-opening moonshot, Washington pitchers Leo Nierenberg and Noah Bremer settled in, retiring the Bruins’ next 15 batters before freshman shortstop Ryan Kreidler walked in the bottom of the sixth.
Bremer, the Huskies’ ace, kept hitters on their heels, complementing his fastball with a looping curveball en route to 11 strikeouts.
“Some of it was probably our own doing, but (Washington’s pitchers) did a nice job throwing strikes,” Stephens said. “Bremer is obviously a quality starter in this league … so if you don’t come ready to play against a guy like him, he’s going to beat you.”
UCLA’s pitching staff has struggled throughout the beginning of Pac-12 play – the team entered the series with a 5.00 earned run average – and Friday wasn’t an exception.
Junior ace Griffin Canning racked up eight strikeouts, but yielded four earned runs on a season-high 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. It was just the second time this season that the righty allowed four or more runs in an outing.
“(Washington’s hitters) made him pay for every mistake,” Savage said. “That’s what happens in this league – when you’re not making pitches, regardless of how good your stuff is, you get hit around.”
The Bruins were without freshman designated hitter Kyle Cuellar on Friday, who injured his hamstring last weekend in Arizona. The cleanup hitter, who is hitting .400 with 16 RBIs this season, is considered day to day, according to Savage.
UCLA will look to rebound at the plate Saturday against Washington’s projected starter, freshman Chris Micheles. The Huskies will likely use freshman starter Jordan Jones in relief.
“We have the rest of the weekend to prove ourselves,” Canning said. “We’ll see how we come out tomorrow.”