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UCLA baseball looks to bounce back after ‘wake-up call’ in blowout loss to TCU

Junior center fielder Malakhi Knight gets ready to hit at Jackie Robinson Stadium. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)

Baseball


Nevada
Tuesday, 5 p.m.

Jackie Robinson Sadium
PAC-12 NETWORKS
Long Beach State
Wednesday, 5 p.m.

Jackie Robinson Stadium
No TV info

By Kai Dizon

Feb. 27, 2024 11:30 a.m.

Coach John Savage recognized his team’s vulnerability to left-handed pitching after sweeping Gonzaga last week and acknowledged that his offense left 14 runners on base in the series finale.

But overall, he said he was excited with how his team started the year and commended his players’ baseball IQ.

After all, his team averaged eight runs a game in the season-opening weekend.

However, in its latest series against TCU, UCLA baseball’s offensive shortcomings against left-handed pitching and with runners on base reared their ugly heads. This time, the Bruins ended up on the other end of a sweep.

“This was really a wake-up call,” said graduate student catcher Quintt Landis.

In the fourth inning of Sunday’s 13-3, run rule-inducing blowout, junior outfielder Malakhi Knight, a right-handed hitter, stepped to the plate as the leadoff man.

Knight took a middle-of-the-plate fastball from TCU left-hander Zack Morris for strike one. After a pitch in the dirt, Morris threw a breaking ball down the middle for strike two. Then came another fastball down the middle – strike three. The only time Knight’s bat left his shoulder was to briefly show bunt on the pitch in the dirt.

The at-bat lasted all of 40 seconds, but the Bruins’ woes against Horned Frog southpaws lasted all series. Across 60 plate appearances, UCLA hitters slashed .180/.300/.220 with a .520 on-base plus slugging against TCU left-handers. Across 97 at-bats this season, the Bruins are hitting just .237 against lefties, while they hit .322 against right-handers in 87 at-bats.

When Sunday’s game was scoreless – in the top of the first – the Bruins loaded the bases with no outs.

But a strikeout from freshman third baseman Roch Cholowsky and a 4-6-3 double play from freshman infielder/outfielder Cameron Kim left the Bruins with a goose egg on the scoreboard.

With runners in scoring position, the Bruins finished the weekend with a .143/.212/.143 slash line and a .355 on-base plus slugging across 33 plate appearances. After leaving 51.6% of runners on base in their first series, UCLA left 61.8% of runners on against TCU, as it was outscored 23-9.

“They just need to understand that they’re going to be pitched differently with runners in scoring position,” Savage said. “It’s just the nature of the game, and we have some players that have never played at this level.”

The Bruins’ upcoming foes

UCLA will return to Jackie Robinson Stadium on Tuesday to take on Nevada, a team that was voted to finish last in the Mountain West by the conference’s head coaches – a stark contrast to the TCU club that retained its No. 5 national ranking this week.

Savage said freshman right-hander Landon Stump, who hasn’t allowed a run in his last 3.1 innings of work out of the bullpen, will get the start against the Wolf Pack.

Savage has yet to announce a starter for Wednesday’s match-up against Long Beach State, who Baseball America predicted to finish eighth in the Big West.

Not to mention, UCLA will compete in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic over the weekend, playing Sunday’s game in the major league ballpark.

“We have five games in six days coming up so we’re fired up,” said junior right-hander Cody Delvecchio. “We’re looking for new opportunities this coming week.”

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