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Underclassman pitchers preserve UCLA baseball’s high rankings

Freshman right-hander Jesse Bergin owns a 2-0 record in his three starts for UCLA baseball this season. Bergin has a 0.51 ERA and is tossing 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)

By Jack Matull

March 7, 2019 1:04 am

Despite their age, the Bruins’ starting rotation is ranked among the best in the country.

No. 2 UCLA baseball (9-2) came into this season fresh off a 2018 pitching campaign in which it ranked within the nation’s top 10 for ERA and WHIP – walks and hits per inning pitched. With the departure of right-hander Jake Bird and a preseason flexor injury to junior right-hander Ryan Garcia, the Bruins were left with just half of last year’s rotation still standing.

Replacing Bird as the Friday starter for the Bruins has been sophomore right-hander Zach Pettway, who bounced in between the No. 2 and No. 3 slots in the rotation last season. Although the former Freshman All-American does not have a win this season, he has racked up the most innings pitched and strikeouts on the team, along with a 0.75 WHIP that tops all other Bruin starters. Coach John Savage credits Pettway’s move up in the rotation to offseason improvements.

“We’ve changed some things with his delivery,” said Savage. “He’s shorter on the back side so the ball’s coming out better. He’s also got four pitches now and has added a slider.”

Moving down the rotation, freshman right-hander Jesse Bergin has started his college career undefeated through three starts, having allowed just one earned run through 17 2/3 innings. Bergin’s 0.51 ERA is ranked fifth in the nation among freshman pitchers, and he said he is looking to focus on how he can contribute as a starting pitcher for the team.

“(Savage) was preaching all fall and stuff how it’s not your moment or anything,” said Bergin. “It’s just about roles and filling into that, and just doing your job.”

The last underclassmen in UCLA’s rotation is freshman right-hander Nick Nastrini, who appeared in relief once during the season-opening series against St. John’s. With Garcia still injured and redshirt junior left-hander Justin Hooper still recovering from Tommy John surgery, Savage said he is looking forward to watching Nastrini progress.

“Another freshman, we’re looking for (Nastrini) to keep on building his resume,” Savage said. “It’s all about getting better at this stage and really evaluating guys to see what they can handle and what they can’t handle.”

UCLA is ranked second in the country with a 1.08 ERA, 4.59 hits allowed per nine innings and four shutouts. The Bruins also started the year by pitching 37 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run, the longest such streak by UCLA since 2011.

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Jack Matull | Sports reporter
Matull is currently a Sports reporter. He was previously a contributor on the baseball and cross country beats.
Matull is currently a Sports reporter. He was previously a contributor on the baseball and cross country beats.
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