With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Bruins welcomed back a pair of injured players.
No. 1 UCLA baseball (42-8, 19-5 Pac-12) defeated UC Irvine (31-15, 12-6 Big West) 7-0 on Tuesday to finish undefeated in midweek games this season. The game marked the return from injury for both junior left fielder Jeremy Ydens and redshirt junior left-hander Justin Hooper.
After batting .350 and stealing 13 bases as the Bruins’ everyday left fielder in 2018, Ydens was sidelined for over two months after breaking his finger March 1. With his return Tuesday, freshman center fielder Matt McLain moved to third base and junior third baseman Ryan Kreidler moved to shortstop.
Batting seventh, Ydens had his first at-bat in the top of the second and singled up the middle for his first hit since February. He and redshirt sophomore left fielder Jarron Silva later scored after UCI right fielder John Jensen dropped a fly ball, putting UCLA up 2-0.
In his next at-bat, Ydens ripped a double to left for his first extra-base hit of the season. He finished the game batting 3-for-4 with a run scored.
“It was exciting to get out there again,” Ydens said. “It felt really good to get back on the field and play.”
Meanwhile, Hooper had not pitched since his Tommy John surgery following the 2017 season, in which he owned a 3.69 ERA as a regular member of the starting rotation.
Junior right-hander Felix Rubi pitched five scoreless innings, and Hooper came out of the bullpen to make his first appearance in nearly two years.
Rubi said he related to Hooper’s journey back to the mound, given his own season-ending injury in 2018.
“It was great to see, knowing that I’ve been through the same path that he’s been through,” Rubi said. “I couldn’t be more excited.”
Hooper got two outs, but was pulled after hitting a batter and issuing a pair of walks to load the bases. Redshirt senior right-hander Nathan Hadley came in for Hooper and got the three-pitch strikeout to escape the jam, before tossing a scoreless seventh.
“I thought (Hooper) looked a little rusty,” said coach John Savage. “But it could’ve been a lot worse, and it was a good opportunity for him to get back out there. He’s healthy now, and hopefully we can build off of that.”
At the plate, the Bruins extended their lead to 3-0 with a solo shot from Kreidler in the third, his second home run in the past three games.
UCLA followed that up with a four-run rally in the fifth, starting with junior third baseman Chase Strumpf’s RBI single to left. Junior first baseman Michael Toglia drove in Strumpf and Kreidler with a two-run double down the left field line, later scoring on Silva’s single to right.
Sophomore right-hander Holden Powell came out for the bottom of the ninth and issued three straight walks to load the bases, but got the fly out to end the game.
The Bruins have now won five games in a row for the fourth time this season. UCLA has outscored opponents 38-13 during the streak.
UCLA will next play a three-game series against Washington starting Friday at 6 p.m. – the Bruins’ final home games of the regular season.