The UCLA baseball team begins its 2010 season tonight at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was selected by the New York Yankees in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft but opted to follow through with his commitment to UCLA, will take the mound for the Bruins. The 6-foot-4 sophomore right-hander is coming off perhaps the best summer of any pitcher in the nation after going 4-0 with a 1.06 earned-run average for Team USA. He was pegged as the top prospect on that team by Baseball America. UCLA coach John Savage expects Cole to lead a deep and experienced pitching staff this spring, as the Bruins look to return to the postseason after missing out last year.
Blair Angulo: What does it feel like to be starting on Friday nights?
Gerrit Cole: It's a great honor. Obviously, we have a bunch of guys that are capable on our team of pitching on Friday night. I feel like our whole rotation is completely interchangeable as far as that aspect. We're all solid and have the same make-up. It's definitely an honor to be throwing on Friday nights, but it could easily be Rob Rasmussen, Trevor Bauer or Garett Claypool.
Angulo: You and Bauer were teammates on Team USA this past summer. What was that experience like?
Cole: I was going into it not knowing what to expect. I was just kind of overwhelmed. I pulled a bunch of information, a bunch of learning experience from that. It was so much fun just to play with guys that enjoy the game as much as you and for your country. It's not a big deal until you do it, until you hear your national anthem. It's a whole different feeling.
Angulo: What did you learn from the experience?
Cole: The teamwork aspect. We didn't have a lot of time to get to know each other. For the few weeks we spent in North Carolina, we really gelled and bonded. When we were in the heat of the battle in Japan and Canada, we all came together and backed each other up. It was just a great feeling that I don't think anyone will be able to forget.
Angulo: How do you bring that experience with you to Westwood?
Cole: The goal is to bring that kind of feeling to our team. We definitely have the make-up to gel as a team like that. I feel that we're there, but what really brought it out in Team USA was when we were up against the wall and everybody was pulling in the same direction. There will be a turning point in this season where we're going to be faced with that opportunity. I think we have the heart and the will to do the same.
Angulo: Are you throwing any harder than you were last year? What speed is your fastball topping out at?
Cole: No. It's probably 98 miles per hour. I'm not exactly sure.
Angulo: What about the rest of your pitches? What have you improved on since last spring?
Cole: The overall command of other pitches -- the ability to throw a fastball over the plate and off the plate, throw a slider over and off the plate.
Cole: No, because I'm having the time of my life. I feel that I'm enjoying myself and we have a solid team. You really can't ask for anything more.
Angulo: After not making the postseason last year, what are the team's expectations this year?
Cole: Our expectations are high. We're going into the situation a little more humble, a little more reserved than we were last year. We realize that anything can happen during a season. The freshman class that we have is unreal -- a bunch of solid, stable guys who understand the game. With a veteran pitching staff and guys like Dan Klein, Erik Goeddel and Matt Drummond anchoring the bullpen, the expectations are much higher. We feel better about the team.
Angulo: What has it been like to face the hitters on your team? How is the offense different from last spring?
Cole: The biggest difference we have at the plate is definitely the patience. You're not getting any three-pitch strikeouts. They're making you throw four or five pitches, which works up the count. It's not that they're taking a different approach from last year, it's that they're more unified. They stick with it throughout the lineup. There's not going to be any easy outs. They're all going to go up there with the same mentality and the same goal -- that's really what has turned the lineup around and made it tougher for the opposition.
Angulo: Is this team capable of going all the way this year?
Cole: I definitely hope so. I think every college player hopes his team can go all the way. We have a legit chance. I think our strength is going to be in our pitching and the defense. We'll be able to take it pretty far, if not all the way.