UCLA’s staff ace missed most of the first month of the season, the top freshman pitcher is out for the year and an injury has kept its all-conference leadoff batter out of the lineup for three weeks.
Despite all that, the Bruins are the consensus No. 1 team following their weekend series win over defending national champion Oregon State.
“The ranking is nice,” coach John Savage said Monday, “but at the same time we realize on March 18 it doesn’t put you in any particular category.”
The Bruins (14-4) came into the season with high expectations and remain on track thanks to better-than-expected pitching and improved offensive production from a couple players.
The weekend rotation of Zach Pettway, Jack Ralston and Jesse Bergin and relievers Kyle Mora, Nathan Hadley and Holden Powell have helped the Bruins rank in the top 10 nationally in ERA (2.21), hits allowed per nine innings (5.96), strikeouts per nine innings (10.9) and walks/hits per innings pitched (1.01).
“Pleasant surprise? I would say our pitching,” Savage said. “The strikeouts seem to be a little higher than we anticipated, so that’s been good. A lot of good ratios there from each guy.”
Ryan Kreider is batting a team-leading .358 after hitting .222 last year, and Garrett Mitchell, who missed time because of a concussion last year, is batting .324 with five steals.
Matt McLain, a 2018 first-round draft pick who chose to go to school rather than sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was batting just .207 before going 5 for 12 with a double, triple and five RBIs in the three games against Oregon State. His 16 RBIs lead the team.
“You’re a first-round draft pick, you’ve got an X on your back no matter where you hit in the lineup,” Savage said. “If you hit first or fifth or sixth, it doesn’t matter; they know who you are. He’s been pitched to pretty tough, but he’s been a run producer, so he’s done a good job there.”
The injury situation appears to be improving. Ryan Garcia, who was supposed to be the Friday night starter, has been working his way back from an arm problem. He threw 4 2-3 innings of strong relief over the weekend in the longest of his three appearances and is on track to start Sunday against Arizona.
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Left fielder Jeremy Ydens, who batted a Pac-12-leading .406 in conference play last year, probably will miss another three weeks after injuring his finger attempting to bunt March 1.
UCLA won’t get back freshman pitcher Nick Nastrini this season. He had season-ending surgery last week to remove a blood clot from behind his collarbone. He had struck out 17 and allowed no runs in 10 2-3 innings as a reliever and midweek starter.
“It’s just an unlucky situation,” Savage said. “Thankfully we found it and the doctors took care of it right away.”
IN THE POLLS
While the Bruins took over the top spot in the DIBaseball.com and Baseball America rankings, North Carolina State (19-1) was promoted to No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball newspaper poll. Vanderbilt (15-5), which had been No. 1 by D1Baseball and Baseball America for five weeks, fell out of the top five after losing two of three to Texas A&M. The big mover was Mississippi State (18-2), which is No. 2 in all three polls following a series win at Florida. Stanford (12-3) was idle because of final exams last week and is No. 3 by D1Baseball and Baseball America. UCLA is No. 3 by Collegiate Baseball.
AND THEN THERE WAS ONE
Arizona State is the only unbeaten team after North Carolina State (19-1) lost 7-5 to Florida State on Sunday. ASU (19-0) swept Washington State in its Pac-12 opening series.
East Carolina sophomore Jake Kuchmaner pitched the program’s first perfect game in a 3-0 win over Maryland on Sunday. The left-hander, who carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning against Mississippi on March 6, threw the first perfect game in Division I since Washington’s Joe DeMers did it against North Dakota on Feb. 24, 2018.
Auburn (18-2) has won 13 in a row after a three-game sweep of Tennessee, and Georgia (18-2) has won nine straight after a three-game sweep of South Carolina. Georgia is out to its best start since opening 19-2 in 2009 and is 3-0 in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since 2007.
DRIVING IN 10
Chris Lanzilli set a Wake Forest record with 10 RBIs in a 13-3 win over Boston College on Sunday. Lanzilli hit a grand slam, had an RBI groundout, two-run single and three-run homer.
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