UCLA baseball faces injuries to key players, leading to lineup shifts
Redshirt sophomore first baseman JT Schwartz (left) and junior shortstop Matt McLain (right) both missed UCLA baseball’s most recent series against California in which the Bruins lost two out of three games at home. (Antonio Martinez/Daily Bruin)
By Taiyo Keilin
May 25, 2021 8:34 p.m.
Matt McLain slashed .397/.422/.621 in 2020, leading all qualified Bruins in both average and slugging.
In 2021, he is hitting .325/.432/.578 in the 39 games he has recorded a plate appearance in, again leading his qualified teammates in two of the three categories.
The junior shortstop has been out of the lineup with a fractured thumb since May 2.
JT Schwartz has only played in 37 of the 50 games in 2021 and is one game shy of being a qualified hitter, but his .397/.525/.632 slash line leads all Bruins who have recorded at least 10 plate appearances in all three metrics. His 1.157 OPS is more than .100 points higher than the second-highest on the team, McLain’s 1.010, and nearly .230 points higher than third place.
The redshirt sophomore first baseman – who also missed the first 10 games of the season – has been out since May 18 with a shoulder injury.
In what was tied for its worst Pac-12 series in terms of run production since May 2018, UCLA baseball (32-18, 15-12 Pac-12) dropped two of three to California (28-24, 14-13) over the weekend, bumping then-No. 18 UCLA out of the top 25 for the second time this season. Despite picking up the win Sunday to avoid getting swept, UCLA only scored 11 runs across the three contests, a figure it reached in 13 of its first 47 games.
The Bruins were without McLain for the 11th straight game Sunday and missed Schwartz in the series for the first time since March.
“We’ve had our fair share of injuries, but we’ve had guys that’ve stepped up and showed that they can play,” said junior third baseman Jake Moberg, who played every game in 2020 but missed the first two months of the 2021 campaign with a shoulder injury. “We got plenty of good guys on the bench so they’re stepping up and doing their job.”
McLain and Schwartz’s absences forced UCLA to rework its lineup, with Moberg and freshman center fielder JonJon Vaughns seeing their playing time increase. Redshirt junior Kevin Kendall moved from center field to second base, junior Mikey Perez from second to shortstop and freshman Kyle Karros – whose brother, sophomore right-hander Jared Karros, has not pitched since late March because of an injury – across the diamond from third base to first.
The Bruins have a team OPS of .831, only .012 points below the mark set by the 2019 team, which won 52 games and was a win away from the College World Series. However, removing McLain and Schwartz from the equation, UCLA’s .286/.389/.442 drops to .272/.370/.410, lowering the team OPS by .051.
“JT going down was a big blow for us,” Moberg said. “He was one of our best hitters — very productive at the plate.”
Despite losing his two best hitters and having to shift around almost his entire defensive alignment, coach John Savage said he is impressed with the way his team has handled the moving parts.
“We’ve played well this season for the most part, but we’ve had a ton of injuries,” Savage said. “I mean, come on, no McLain, no Schwartz – (senior right-hander Zach) Pettway for the first part of the season. Now you got (sophomore left-hander Jake) Saum, now you got (Jared) Karros, then you got (redshirt senior right-hander Kyle) Mora. I mean it goes on and on – it’s a laundry list of injuries.”
Injuries on the hill
UCLA has also dealt with injuries to its arms, with its ace, Pettway, unavailable for the season’s first few series after picking up an injury during the fall. The Bruins’ Friday night starter for the past three years did not throw more than 60 pitches in an outing this year until the first Pac-12 game.
Saum was UCLA’s go-to southpaw out of the bullpen, but after he fractured his pinky in mid-April, Savage decided to increase junior left-hander Daniel Colwell’s usage. Colwell threw a combined 3.2 innings in six appearances his first two seasons in Westwood but in 2021, his 25 appearances rank third on the team behind senior right-handers Michael Townsend and Adrian Chaidez and his 27 innings are second only to Townsend among pitchers who have not made a start.
Junior right-hander Jesse Bergin, the winner in Sunday’s matinee against the Golden Bears, said the flexibility of the bullpen arms helps the Bruins stay in games late even though the offense is not what it once was.
“(Colwell’s) throwing as well as he’s ever thrown. Mike T. has the most appearances in the country. Kyle Mora just got back (from a knee injury and) looks like his normal self like he never missed (time). Adrian’s a huge long relief guy. (Freshman right-hander) Max (Rajcic) is closing out games,” Bergin said. “Everyone’s stepping up and doing a great job and doing what they need to do.”