This week in Cougar baseball

A PROMISING START for the Cougar baseball team has taken a turn for the worse. After being swept by the Beavers this past weekend, Washington State sits at 12-11 and now hosts a hot UCLA squad that has won five in a row and seven of its last eight. A sophomore leads the Cougars in hitting, while half the team owns batting averages below .200.

Designated hitter/outfielder Wes Leow (pictured above) is leading the team in hitting. The sophomore is batting .333 with an on-base percentage of .421 and a slugging percentage of .424. Leow played in 16 games last season, and has already surpassed that with 18 appearances this season in the Cougs' first 23 games.

"He took some really good swings on some tough pitches this last weekend," Donnie Marbut said. "We always knew there was bat potential in Wes, so we're going to have to count on him to continue to play more, hit more in the middle of the order, and help us score some runs because right now, we're a little bit challenged offensively."

Seniors Ian Sagdal and P.J. Jones have been among the rare models of consistency for a WSU squad that is batting .216 collectively. The Cougars have only scored seven runs in their last five games.

"We're flipping plans, we're not sitting on certain pitches, trying to make it more than it's worth," Marbut said. "(A) runner at third base with less than two outs, just trying to hit a fly ball, we didn't get that done for whatever reason. Our lack of execution, the quality of execution of pitches on the other side, so it's something we're going to have to work on this week and something we're going to have to make happen."

Jones and Sagdal have started all 23 games, and Sagdal is second on the team with a .304 batting average. Jones has an on-base percentage of .418, and has been reliable at catcher with a .994 fielding percentage.

But sixteen Cougars, Jones included, have batting averages below .260 and nine of them are batting below .200. That hasn't given a pitching staff that has given up an average of under four runs in its last four games much to work with.

Senior Joe Pistorese has rounded into midseason form with a 3-2 record and a 2.62 ERA, coming off of a complete game loss against Oregon State in which he surrendered only three runs. The southpaw has hurled the only two complete games for the Cougars' pitching staff.

Fellow left-hander Matt Bower has been reliable out of the bullpen, so much so that he has pitched the third-most innings (23.0) on the team despite zero starts. Bower is 4-0, has struck out a team-high 35 batters, and is holding opponents to a .210 batting average.

The week ahead: The Bruins enter the series with a record of 18-5 and are ranked No. 9 nationally in the latest Baseball America poll. They have four players who have started all 23 games and are batting above .300. Even more importantly, those four players all have on-base percentages above .400.

"I picked UCLA to win the conference and they're coming in here, so it's just another week where you're going to play a really, really good opponent," Marbut said. "UCLA's pitching is outstanding, they're swinging the bats great, they're a great defensive team."

UCLA is tied with Cal for the Pac-12 lead with a 5-1 mark in league play. They have outscored its opponents 156-73 this season and a lot of those runs come from brute force. They have the third-most home runs in the Pac-12 with 21. Chris Keck and Kevin Kramer have combined for 10 of the team's homers. Kramer also leads the team in batting average (.424), hits (39), runs (28), on-base percentage (.518), and slugging percentage (.663).

The Bruins are also balanced -- UCLA's pitching staff is led by Grant Watson and James Kaprielian who are a combined 8-3 in 12 starts. Watson owns a 1.80 ERA in 35 innings of work, holding opponents to a .238 batting average. Watson and Kaprielian are both in the top 10 in the conference in ERA. Kaprielian has a Pac-12-best 46 strikeouts this season in 38 innings.

The Bruins won two out of three against the Cougars last season, although each game was decided by two runs or less.

The series begins Friday at 6 p.m. Saturday's game starts at 2 p.m., and the rubber match is set for noon on Sunday.

  • Perhaps the three-game homestand can give WSU a boost. The Cougars are 7-1 at home this season, compared to 2-7 on the road.

  • The Cougars will start Sean Hartnett on Friday and Pistorese on Saturday. Marbut said Sunday's starter could be Nick Leonard, but wildness in his last start might uproot him from the No. 3 role in the rotation. Leonard is 1-3 in six starts this season with 13 strikeouts and seven walks. Two of those walks came in his 1/3 of an inning of work against Oregon State last weekend.

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