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Baseball prepares to face UC Irvine in second weekend series of season

Redshirt junior center fielder Kevin Kendall is batting .263 on the early season and recorded three hits and two stolen bases in No. 8 UCLA baseball’s second game of the campaign. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Baseball


UC Irvine
Friday, 5 p.m.

Jackie Robinson Stadium
UCLA Live Stream-3
UC Irvine
Saturday, 1 p.m.

Irvine, CA
UC Irvine Live Stream
UC Irvine
Sunday, 2 p.m.

Jackie Robinson Stadium
UCLA Live Stream-3

By Sam Connon

Feb. 26, 2021 11:39 a.m.

This post was updated Feb. 26 at 11:50 a.m.

The Bruins’ next opponent has already swept a Pac-12 team this season.

No. 8 UCLA baseball (2-2) will play UC Irvine (3-0) in a home-and-home weekend series, with the Bruins hosting the Friday and Sunday matchups and the Anteaters welcoming them to Irvine on Saturday. UC Irvine played a series against Washington at home last weekend, winning all three games by two runs or fewer, while UCLA dropped its series to San Francisco.

Coach John Savage said the Anteaters’ No. 1 starter – right-hander Trenton Denholm – was a legitimate, high-level Friday starter, and their experienced roster of upperclassmen would pose a major challenge for the Bruins.

“They just swept a Pac-12 team, so you got to look at them and say, ‘Hey, these guys are pretty good,'” Savage said. “There (are) a lot of 22, 23, 21-year-old players on the field and if you play college baseball in the West for three or four years, you get good.”

Denholm went 11-6 with a 1.90 ERA between 2019 and 2020, earning an All-American nod after his sophomore year. He suffered a lower leg contusion in the second inning of his start against the Huskies last week, but he is still slated to start Friday against the Bruins.

UCLA’s Friday starter for each of the past two seasons, senior right-hander Zach Pettway, missed his first start last week after an injury setback in the offseason. Savage said he could return to the mound for an inning or two of relief in the upcoming series rather than a starting appearance.

Sophomore right-hander Jared Karros will start in Pettway’s place for the second-straight week, but Savage said there are as many as seven pitchers fighting for a spot in the starting rotation moving forward.

“We always want to build more than four starters, that’s for sure,” Savage said. “It’s good to have those sorts of long relief options, if, you know, not everybody can start.”

Junior right-hander Sean Mullen, who started and went 7 1/3 innings deep for UCLA on Tuesday versus Loyola Marymount, said he will continue to be used out of the bullpen Fridays and Saturdays. Mullen also made an appearance against San Francisco and said he expects to see more of the same against UC Irvine this weekend.

“Irvine will be a good test,” Mullen said. “I’m sure they’ll have similar styles of play to the teams we played both (Tuesday) and this weekend – kind of West Coast schools, busy on the bases, kind of a fundamental team.”

The Bruins’ four starters combined for a 2.13 ERA the first time through the rotation, while the offense owns just a .241 batting average so far this year.

UCLA scored 4.3 runs per game in its season-opening series after scoring 7.5 per game in 2020. Redshirt junior center fielder Kevin Kendall – who recently made the transition from shortstop after recovering from wrist surgery in the offseason – said improvements at the plate will come so long as he and his teammates go all out in practice ahead of their next series.

“It’s easy to look ahead to the weekend, but we’re coming off a tough weekend, so we really – our intensity in practice yesterday, on Monday, was extremely high and we used that momentum in (Tuesday)’s game,” Kendall said. “If we want to do what we want to this weekend, we got to take care of our practice on Thursday.”

The Bruins have taken care of business against the Anteaters as of late, winning the last three head-to-head matchups by a combined score of 28-3. UC Irvine picked up victories in each of the previous three games against UCLA, however, two of which came by seven or more runs.

First pitch Friday will be at 5 p.m., with 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. start times on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

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Sam Connon | Alumnus
Connon joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2017 and contributed until he graduated in 2021. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor for the 2018-2019 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats, while also contributing movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment.
Connon joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2017 and contributed until he graduated in 2021. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor for the 2018-2019 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats, while also contributing movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment.
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