IRVINE, Calif.--No. 21 UCLA lost to No. 16 UC Irvine, 2-1, in a nonconference baseball game Tuesday night at Anteater Ballpark, but it had to be considered a victory for freshman pitcher Zack Weiss.
The UCLA right hander rebounded from a rough start two weeks ago at Long Beach State and a skipped start last week when the lights went out just before his scheduled turn in the rotation last Tuesday and UCLA canceled its game against Cal State Fullerton.
So to come into a tough road environment late in the season having had two weeks to sit on that loss to Long Beach and hold a top-20 team to two runs on four hits meant a lot to Weiss and to UCLA.
"I was itching to get back out there," Weiss said. "I had a long wait between starts and some bad memories to think about that whole time. I made some mechanical adjustments and just attacked with the fastball."
That's something he didn't do two weeks ago, when the 49ers tagged Weiss for four runs on five hits, two hit batters and two wild pitches in four innings of a 4-2 loss.
Against Irvine, Weiss (5-3) was perfect through four innings and retired the side in order in six of his seven innings. He struck out four and walked one and threw 51 of his 85 pitches for strikes. He lowered his ERA to 2.54.
Freshman closer Nick Vander Tuig also performed admirably, coming in to a 1-1 game with runners at first and second with nobody out in the eighth and nearly getting out of it. He got a strikeout then gave up a single to load the bases. Irvine scored the eventual winning run when Sean Madigan hit a dribbler about 10 feet in front of home plate and the only play UCLA catcher Tyler Hineman had was to first base.
Still, Bruins Coach John Savage had nothing but praise for his freshmen pitchers.
"They gave up five hits," Savage said. "They pitched in front of a big crowd on the road. They looked the part tonight. And that's good because we’re going to need them in the post season. We’re going to need them down the road."
Getting Weiss back on track was particularly important. With their series victory over California last weekend, UCLA all but assured themselves a postseason berth so losing Tuesday's game wasn't that big of a blow.
It would have been if Weiss had another shaky outing, however, because a deep rotation is imperative in the playoffs. The Bruins are pretty set with Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Adam Plutko in the rotation and now Weiss has confidence as the Bruins head to Arizona State this weekend with a chance to win the Pac-10 Conference title.
"It's huge for him to pitch like this at this point in the season," Savage said. "We're going to need him in crucial situations coming up. We're talking about maybe coming out of the bullpen this weekend with the conference title on the line. We're talking about starting the fourth game of a regional. Four starters are better than three and we know we have a fourth starter in Zack Weiss."
What the Bruins don't know is what kind of offense they will have. Their disturbingly inconsistent offense sputtered Tuesday against UC Irvine freshman Andrew Thurman, who entered the game with a 3-3 record and a 4.11 ERA. UCLA only managed four hits against him and six for the game.
Thurman, who had previously struck out 45 batters in 57 innings, struck out nine Bruins in seven innings Tuesday night. UCLA struck out 13 times total, including three times to end innings with runners on base.
"It’s definitely a concern," said third baseman Cody Regis, who had two hits, including a fourth-inning home run that gave UCLA a 1-0 lead. "We tried to do too much instead of letting it come to us and letting things happen, we tried to overcompensate for things.
"But it was just an off night. I think if we just stick to the process and trust ourselves, I think we can beat any team in the country. We just have to do that."
Inconsistent hitting has been a season-long issue for UCLA, which is batting .260 for the season and is averaging 4.4 runs per game. The Bruins scored 10 runs May 14 against Cal state Bakersfield, but have scored only 11 runs in the five games since.
"We didn’t swing the bats very well," Savage said. "It’s disappointing because I thought we were kind of past that a little and we come out and strike out 13 times."
Notes: UCLA reliever Mitchell Beacom was in a walking boot and on crutches Tuesday, the result of a stress fracture in his foot. Beacom, one of only two left-handed pitchers the Bruins have, has a 2.20 ERA in 32.2 innings--all in relief. He is scheduled to have an MRI, but Savage said he's probably out for the weekend series at Arizona State.
"Right now he's out indefinitely," Savage said. "It's probably a post season thing at best depending on what they find with the MRI. It's unfortunate because we need him, especially against lefties."