Feb. 17, 2009
LOS ANGELES - UCLA begins the 2009 baseball season with a three-game series at home against UC Davis, a 2008 Palo Alto Regional competitor, on Friday, Feb. 20. UCLA's season-opening contest marks the first-ever baseball game between the Bruins and UC Davis. The Aggies baseball program joined the Division I ranks as a member of the Big West Conference at the start of the 2008 season. UCLA and UC Davis both ended their respective 2008 seasons in NCAA Regional competition. UCLA went 33-27 after advancing to the Fullerton Regional Final, and UC Davis posted a 35-24 record after going 1-2 at the Palo Alto Regional last spring.
SERIES VS. UC DAVIS: First meeting
CURRENT SERIES STREAK: First meeting
Friday, Feb. 20, 6 p.m. (2008 stats)
UC Davis - Jeremy McChesney, RHP, Sr. (2-2, 4.10)
UCLA - Rob Rasmussen, LHP, So. (0-2, 5.60)
Sunday, Feb. 22, 1 p.m.
UC Davis - Tom Briner, RHP, So. (1-1, 7.15)
UCLA - Charles Brewer, RHP, Jr. (9-4, 5.10)
UCLA returns 26 players (22 letterwinners) back from its 2008 roster. The Bruins welcome back 13 of 14 pitchers from last spring - left-hander and 2008 staff ace Tim Murphy signed with the Texas Rangers last summer after being drafteed in the third round of the Major League Draft. Junior Casey Haerther is the lone returning starter on the field. Haerther played in 58 games last season, making 56 starts at first base, and could compete for playing time at both first and third base. UCLA returns seven of nine outfielders from one year ago, and all three projected starters have played considerably for two full seasons.
Admission to regular-season games at Jackie Robinson Stadium costs seven dollars for adults and five dollars for children. All Tuesday contests cost just two dollars for both adults and children as part of the Bruins' "Two Dollar Tuesday" promotion.
UCLABruins.com Radio will broadacast the majority of its games online in 2009, free of charge at uclabruins.com. All home games will be broadcast live from Jackie Robinson Stadium. Select road games, including the three-game set at the Houston College Classic next weekend, will be broadcast online. The baseball program welcomes back Danny Lee (fifth season) and Tim Wilhelm (third season) behind the microphone in 2009.
Under fifth-year head coach John Savage, the UCLA baseball program has recorded a 3-1 record in season-opening games. Last spring, Gabe Cohen belted a two-run walk-off homer in the ninth inning, handing the Bruins a 7-5 victory over Oklahoma in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader (Feb. 23). In 2007, the Bruins edged Winthrop by a 2-1 margin at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
PRIDE OF POLY
UCLA will turn to sophomore left-hander Rob Rasmussen to make the Bruins' start on Opening Day. The former standout at Pasadena Polytechnic, Rasmussen went 0-2 with a 5.60 ERA in nine games (two starts). The native of Arcadia, Calif., missed nearly 10 weeks of the season after breaking his left foot on a line-drive comebacker in his collegiate debut (Feb. 27).
The Bruins' pitching staff inherits 13 returners from 2008 and welcomes three freshmen (all right-handed). The staff features 10 right-handers and six left-handers and breakdown of five freshmen (two redshirt), three sophomores, six juniors (one redshirt) and two seniors (one redshirt). The team's 11 returning pitchers which have thrown in a regular-season game have registered a combined 741.2 innings, compiling a combined 41-33 record, 4.89 ERA, 556 strikeouts and 326 walks.
RUNNING THE OPTION
UCLA's infield, still in flux, will feature several new faces in 2009 and offers the ballclub several intriguing options. The Bruins may move junior first baseman Casey Haerther to third base (served as DH in 2007, first baseman in 2008). Along with Haerther, junior Alex Weber-Shapiro (two-year standout at Claremont McKenna) should compete for playing time at first base. Sophomore Niko Gallego, freshman Tyler Rahmatulla (Mater Dei HS), senior Eddie Murray and freshman Chris Amezquita (Servite HS) are all competing for playing time around the infield. Gallego and Rahmatulla are the most likely candidates to play shortstop.
The Bruins' seven outfielders have all been in UCLA's program at least one season. Redshirt juniors Blair Dunlap and Dustin Quist are the unit's eldest players, as each outfielder enrolled at UCLA in the fall of 2005. Dunlap enters 2009 as the leading candidate to start in center, a position in which he earned 29 starts in 2008. Junior Justin Uribe has logged 50 starts in the outfield and looks to assume the starting role in left. Junior Gabe Cohen has patrolled right field the past two seasons, collecting 85 outfield starts (all in right). Pushing for playing time, along with Quist, include sophomores Raul Duran and Brett Krill and redshirt freshman Marc Navarro.
Behind the plate, UCLA's looks to freshman Steve Rodriguez (St. John Bosco HS) to serve as the team's starting catcher. One of the team's more inexperienced groups, the catching unit features sophomore Chris Giovinazzo and senior Gino Aielli in addition to Rodriguez. Rodriguez arrives in Westwood after having earned four varsity baseball letters as the catcher for St. John Bosco. Giovinazzo played in 18 games as a freshman, including 13 starts in the outfield, but did not spend any time behind the plate. Aielli, who transferred to UCLA in the summer of 2007 from Saddleback JC, should push for playing time behind the plate and around the infield.
The Bruins' 2009 roster features five seniors - Gino Aielli, Cody Decker, Brendan Lafferty, Eddie Murray and Jason Novak. The most veteran of the bunch, Brendan Lafferty enrolled at UCLA in the fall of 2004 and is the lone remaining member of UCLA's 2005 ballclub. Decker, Murray and Novak have been in the baseball program the past three seasons. Aielli enters his second season at UCLA after having played the 2006 and 2007 seasons at Saddleback Junior College (Santa Ana, Calif.).
Ranked No. 1 in strength of schedule by Boyd's World, a nationally-respected ranking service, the 2009 UCLA regular-season schedule is lined with three consecutive non-conference weekend series away from the West. Following trips to the Houston College Classic, Oklahoma and East Carolina, the Bruins play nine weekends against Pac-10 opposition and a three-game non-conference set against Cal State Fullerton. In all, UCLA's travel schedule spans over 16,400 miles this spring, round trips included.
HITTING IT FARTHER
Junior Casey Haerther led the Bruins with 12 homers and 52 RBI one year ago. Haerther compiled a .324 batting average, second-highest on the team, before being named an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection. Haerther is one of two Bruins (along with RHP Charles Brewer) to have been named to the 2009 Brooks Wallace Player of the Year Award Watch List. A talented defensive player at first base, Haerther may play at both first and third base this spring. Last season, he committed just three errors in 495 chances at first base.
Junior right-handed pitcher Charles Brewer, slated to start on Sunday, had a solid sophomore. Brewer, who missed nearly his entire freshman season (2007) fighting mononucleosis, went 9-4 with a 5.10 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 97.0 innings last spring. Brewer led UCLA with nine wins and finished 2008 as one of just five pitchers to tie for the Pac-10 lead in conference victories. The 6-foot-4 product from Paradise Valley, Ariz., was an 18th round draft selection by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the summer of 2006. Charles is joined on the team this spring by his brother Chase, a freshman right-handed pitcher.
BRINGIN' THE HEAT
UCLA looks for freshman right-hander Gerrit Cole to compete for a role in the Bruins' starting rotation. Scheduled to start on Saturday against UC Davis, Cole went 8-2 with a 0.46 ERA as a senior last spring at Orange Lutheran High School, totaling 121 strikeouts and 18 walks and one save in 75.2 innings. The hard-throwing right-hander was selected in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees (28th overall). Cole became the first high school player drafted in the first round to attend college since 2002, when John Mayberry, Jr. enrolled at Stanford (Mayberry was the 28th overall selection by the Seattle Mariners).
Senior Brendan Lafferty excelled in relief last spring, earning UCLA's team most valuable pitcher honors. The veteran left-hander from Riverside, Calif., made 33 appearances (all in relief), pitching in more games in one season than any Bruin since Rob Henkel in 1997 (34 appearances). Lafferty finished his junior campaign with a 4-3 mark, 3.74 ERA, three saves and 56 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. The team's most veteran returnee, Lafferty made 15 appearances in 2005, redshirted the 2006 season and pitched in 25 games as a sophomore in 2007. He enters the 2009 season having made 73 career appearances (three starts).
The Bruins welcomed two assistant coaches to the program last summer. Rick Vanderhook and Steve Pearse have joined the coaching staff and bring an extensive and impressive baseball background to Jackie Robinson Stadium. Vanderhook spent 21 seasons as an assistant coach at Cal State Fullerton and enters his 24th season coaching in the college ranks. He coached Cal State Fullerton to two national titles (`95, `04) and 10 College World Series appearances. Pearse begins his 20th season as an assistant coach and has helped lead his teams to the College World Series as an assistant coach (Cal, 1992) and as a player (Fresno State, 1988).
Baseball America has tabbed UCLA as its preseason favorite to win the 2009 Pac-10 title. The national baseball publication predicts the Bruins to finish ahead of Arizona State, Stanford and Oregon State, respectively. Casey Haerther is named by Baseball America as a preseason All-Pac-10 selection. The publication lists freshman right-hander Gerrit Cole as the conference's "top newcomer" and freshman right-hander Trevor Bauer as the Pac-10's ninth-best newcomer. Baseball America predicts six Pac-10 Conference teams will earn berths to NCAA Regionals (UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon State, California, USC).
UCLA was selected second out of 10 teams in the 2009 Pac-10 preseason coaches' poll. Arizona State, picked to win the conference, and UCLA each received three of 10 first-place votes. Stanford, picked to finish third, gained one first-place vote, and Oregon State, selected fourth, captured two first-place votes. Arizona received the final first-place vote, being selected fifth in the preseason poll. California, USC, Washington State, Washington and Oregon round out the poll's 10 teams.
Following this weekend's season-opening three-game series against UC Davis, the Bruins will play two games against Big West Conference teams before hitting the road for the Houston College Classic. UCLA plays at UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday, Feb. 24 (2 p.m.) before hosting UC Riverside on Wednesday, Feb. 25 (6 p.m.). Last season, the Bruins went won the only contest of the season against UC Santa Barbara, downing the Gauchos, 5-4, in 13 innings in a 5-hour, 25-minute marathon at Jackie Robinson Stadium. UCLA swept UC Riverside in a three-game series at Jackie Robinson Stadium the weekend of April 11-13.
WEEKEND IN HOUSTON
UCLA travels to Houston, Texas next week to play in one of college baseball's most respected in-season tournaments - the Houston College Classic. The Bruins will face No. 7 Rice on Friday (5 p.m., PT), No. 8 Baylor on Saturday (1:30 p.m. PT) and No. 9 UC Irvine on Sunday (9 a.m., PT). Other teams competing in the Classic this season include Texas A&M and Houston. All games in Houston will be played at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. UCLA broadcaster Tim Wilhelm will call the action live from Houston. Audio broadcasts of UCLA's three Houston College Classic games are available online at uclabruins.com, free of charge.