Baseball Preview: UCLA

After winning their third straight series to start the season last week against Arizona, Fullerton played at San Diego State in the first midweek game of the season, losing 8-7 to drop the Titans record to 7-3. Up next, the UCLA Bruins.

UCLA is 6-5 on the season after getting hammered 14-1 at Long Beach on Tuesday night. The Bruins are primarily a sophomore led team but that doesn't mean that they are inexperienced (especially their position players) because many of those sophomores were starters last year as freshmen. Head Coach John Savage went with mostly newcomers to lead UCLA to a 3rd place finish in the Pac 10 and an NCAA regional last year after finishing 15-41 in his first year at UCLA after coaching at UC Irvine for three seasons. UCLA opened this season by winning 2 of 3 at home against Winthrop (a solid mid-major team), lost all 3 at Miami (two were one run losses) and won all 3 at home against a future Titan opponent, East Carolina.

LINEUP

UCLA has solid power in their lineup, averaging an HR per game last year with most of the same players returning, and 7 HR's thus far. For the two games at UCLA, it should be noted that Jackie Robinson Stadium is a hitters park with much shorter dimensions (330-365-390) than Goodwin Field (335-385-400). UCLA has 3 threats to steal - Crawford, Murphy and Carrithers. UCLA doesn't bunt much, except for the platoon at 3B with 5 SAC bunts.

C - Ryan Babineau (RH, Soph). As the regular catcher, Babineau hit .258 with 6 HR's and 25 RBI's as a FR, although he did improve significantly as the season went on and hit .351 in Pac 10 games. '07 stats - .278 - 0 HR - 6 RBI's -1 SB. Usually hits in the lower part of the order, although he has batted 3rd twice. Babineau is a good at holding down baserunners (26-48 SB's over the last two years) but has had difficulty with WP's and PB's, allowing 55 last year and 20 this year.

1B - Tim Stewart (RH, SR). Stewart transferred from UC Irvine to play his final two seasons for Savage. He hit .301 with 6 HR's and 25 RBI's last year, starting 36 games. '07 stats - .270-1-3-0. Usually hits 3rd or 4th. Solid defensive player who has only made one error over two seasons.

2B - Alden Carrithers (LH, JR). Fullerton fans are very familiar with Carrithers because he played his first two seasons at UCSB before transferring to UCLA. Carrithers was 2nd team all Big West last year and is very good at getting on base as UCLA's leadoff man. Last year at UCSB, Carrithers hit .342 with 2 HR's and 30 RBI's and an OBP of .465 due to getting 45 walks and he also stole 6 bases. '07 stats - .341-0-9-2 (.440 OBP). Very good defensive player who made 10 errors last year (playing half of his games on a poor infield at UCSB known for bad hops) and hasn't made an error yet this season.

SS - Brandon Crawford (LH, Soph). Crawford started last year as a FR, hitting .318 with 6 HR's, 30 RBI's and 7 SB's . Crawford has stepped up his game this year as UCLA's best position player, getting off to a hot start with a .400 average, 2 HR's, 13 RBI's and 6 SB's. Crawford usually hits 2nd and has hit 3rd three times. Crawford has good range at SS but has been a little erratic, making 13 errors last year and 2 this year.

3B - Nolan Rouse (RH, SR) or Eddie Murray (RH, Soph). Jermaine Curtis led the Bruins in hitting last year at .336 as a FR but he is academically ineligible so Rouse and Murray have replaced Curtis and the drop-off has been significant. They have combined to hit .125 with 0 HR's and 1 RBI. Whoever plays 3B will be batting 9th. There has also been a drop-off defensively without Curtis in the lineup as Rouse and Murray have combined to make 4 errors. The Fullerton coaching staff will likely be looking to exploit this defensive weakness.

CF - Tim Murphy (LH, Soph). Murphy started in CF as a FR for the first few weeks before being injured and returned late in the season. Murphy ended up starting 20 games, hitting .254 with 1 HR and 7 RBI's. '07 stats - .257-0-1-3. Murphy usually hits in the lower part of the lineup. Murphy has good range in CF and a good arm (he is also a pitcher).

LF/RF/DH - Savage platoons several players in these three positions. Splitting time are Mickey Weisser (RH, JR - JC transfer, 8 starts), Will Penniall (Switch, SR, 6 starts), one of the few players left in the program who played for Gary Adams, Gabe Cohen (RH, FR, 5 starts), Cody Decker (RH, Soph, 5 starts), Casey Haerther (RH, FR, 5 starts) and Justin Uribe (LH, FR, 4 starts). Weisser will be in the OF when he is playing. Haerther has only DH'd thus far. The other 4 players have all started games in the OF and at DH. Weisser has hit cleanup in 6 of his 8 starts. The other players will usually hit in the lower part of the lineup, except for Penniall who has batted 2nd a couple of times. The hottest hitters in this group have been Cohen (.364-2-8-1) and Penniall (.345-0-3-0).

PITCHING

John Savage is known for his experience in working with pitchers and his work has really shown itself this year with starter Tyson Brummett and reliever Jason Novak. However, the rest of the pitching staff has struggled. When Brummett or Novak aren't pitching, the combined ERA for the rest of the pitching staff is 7.31.

Friday SP - Tyson Brummett (RHP, SR, 2-1, 1.09 ERA). Brummett was the Sunday SP last year for the Bruins and was ok, going 6-7 with a 4.52 ERA in 15 starts. The Titans pounded him for 5 R's in 1 2/3 IP in his start at Fullerton. This year, Brummett has been dominant in allowing 1 run in each of his 3 starts and opposing batters are only hitting .179 off of him.

Sat SP - Sat SP - Matthew Drummond (LHP, FR - 4 shutout innings vs. Long Beach on Tuesday), only appearance of the season.

Sun SP - Gavin Brooks (LHP, FR, 1-0, 4.05 ERA). Brooks is talented but is coming back from some arm issues going back to his SR year in HS so he has been on a limited pitch count to start the season, going 4 to 5 innings in each of his three starts. He has pitched decently, allowing 2 runs in each of his three starts.

Relievers - Jason Novak (RHP, Soph, 1-0, 0.64) has been dominant in 4 appearances, pitching 14 innings and allowing only 1 run on 8 hits, holding opposing batters to a .167 batting average. He has been coming into games in middle relief for the starters on Sats and Suns, going 3-4 innings at a time. The closer for UCLA is Brant Rustich (RHP, JR, 1-1, 9.00 ERA, 3 saves), who has struggled this year after redshirting last year due to a finger injury in his pitching hand. Rustich has allowed 12 H's and 10 R's (6 ER's) in 6 IP over 7 appearances. Other pitchers that will pitch in relief for the Bruins are Kevin Brophy (RHP, SR, 2 R's allowed in 4 2/3 IP over 7 apps) and Paul Schmidt (LHP, 0-2, 11.25 ERA, 7 apps - 1 start, 8 IP). Also available out of the bullpen are Garrett Claypool (RHP, FR - 4 shutout innings vs. Riverside) and Brendan Lafferty (LHP, Soph, 1-0, 11.57 ERA), who started the past two weeks against Miami (3 IP, 6 H's, 5 R's) and ECU (4 IP, 6 H's, 3 R's) but has been moved to the bullpen.

OUTLOOK

Friday's game should be similar to last week's Fullerton game with Arizona because UCLA has already been in two pitchers duels with Brummett on the mound, a 2-1 win vs. Winthrop and a 1-0 loss at Miami. Don't expect to see many runs scored with Brummett and Roemer on the mound. It looks like Fullerton has an advantage on Sat with the way Kaplan has pitched in his last two starts. The pitching matchup on Sunday is pretty even. Fullerton has feasted on Sat and Sun pitching, scoring 9 or more runs in 5 of those 6 games, and the Titans have only been held under five runs once all season. UCLA has struggled at times offensively, being held to 4 runs or less in 6 of 11 games. The intangible in this matchup is the coaches - Horton vs. Savage. Horton has gotten the better of Savage, going 12-2 against him at Irvine (7-2) and UCLA (5-0), winning all 4 series that have been played between the two coaches, including a sweep last year. Fullerton looks like the better team at this point in the season and should win the series.