Los Angeles, Calif. - The defending champion UCLA Baseball team will kick off its 2014 season against Portland tonight, opening a three-game non-conference series at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The Bruins have won five of their last seven season openers and in nine seasons under head coach John Savage, UCLA has posted a 6-3 record in season openers. This will be the first meeting between UCLA and Portland on the baseball diamond. With John Savage at the helm of UCLA’s program, the Bruins have gone 28-15 against teams from the West Coast Conference.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
Friday, Feb. 14 - 6 p.m. (2013 stats)
POR – Travis Radke, LHP, Jr. (2-3, 3.65)
UCLA – James Kaprielian, RHP, So. (0-0, 1.55)
Saturday, Feb. 15 - 2 p.m.
POR – Kody Watts, RHP, Jr. (1-2, 4.46)
UCLA – Grant Watson, LHP, Jr. (9-3, 3.01)
Sunday, Feb. 16 - 1 p.m.
POR – Kurt Yinger, RHP, Jr. (4-6, 4.15)
UCLA – Cody Poteet, RHP, So. (4-6, 4.84)
All three of the UCLA/Portland games this weekend will feature a live audio broadcast online, free of charge, at uclabruins.com. John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will have the call live from Jackie Robinson Stadium. Fans can also follow all three games online through a live stats link, which provides pitch-by-pitch updates on uclabruins.com. Links can be found on the front page of uclabruins.com on the events calendar or on the 2014 UCLA Baseball schedule page.
THE LOOK OF THE OUTFIELD
With last year’s starting right-fielder Eric Filia out for the season with an injury, sophomore Christoph Bono will be counted on to begin the year as the starter in right. Bono made 55 appearances a year ago, serving mostly as a defensive replacement. Sophomore Ty Moore and freshman Brett Stephens will start the year splitting time in left field. Moore hit .219 with 10 RBI in 28 games last year while Stephens had a huge summer for the Wenatchee AppleSox of the West Coast League, hitting .326 in 48 games. The one returning starter in the outfield is center fielder Brian Carroll, who was one of three players to start every game last season. Spending the majority of the year as the Bruins’ leadoff hitter in 2013, Carroll batted .258 with 20 RBI and a .380 on-base percentage. He was especially a terror on the basepaths, leading the Pac-12 with 32 stolen bases in 40 attempts.
AROUND THE INFIELD
UCLA returns a wealth of experience in the infield in 2014. Senior Pat Gallagher returns to man first base after hitting .274 with 20 runs, seven doubles, one home run and 20 RBI in 2013. Gallagher was one of the Bruins’ best hitters in the postseason, batting .351 while earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the NCAA Los Angeles Regional. With senior Kevin Williams out to start the season, sophomores Trent Chatterton and Brett Urabe will look to fill the void at second base. Both players saw action as freshmen in 2013, but will look to move into full-time roles this season at both the second base and shortstop positions. At third base, junior Chris Keck will take over the starting job after playing in 31 games last season. Finally, junior Shane Zeile returns behind the plate after starting 57 of UCLA’s 66 games last season.
STARTING THE SEASON OPENER
Taking the mound for the Bruins tonight will be sophomore right-hander James Kaprielian. Kaprielian served as an integral part of UCLA’s bullpen in 2013, making 34 relief appearances while posting a 1.55 ERA, two saves and 53 strikeouts in 40.2 innings pitched. For his efforts, he earned freshman All-America honors from Perfect Game USA and Collegiate Baseball. Kaprielian was especially key during the second half of last season, logging a 1.65 ERA in 16 Pac-12 appearances before appearing in six postseason games and allowing only one run in 5.2 innings pitched. Tonight will be Kaprielian’s first collegiate start.
Junior left-hander Grant Watson is the lone holdover from last year’s weekend rotation and is slated to start Saturday’s contest. As a sophomore in 2013, Watson went 9-3 with a 3.01 ERA, striking out 55 batters and walking just 16, the sixth-fewest in the Pac-12. He pitched particularly well in the postseason, winning both of his starts while not allowing a run in 13 combined innings. In addition, Watson was named to the 2013 NCAA Los Angeles Regional All-Tournament Team. In two seasons in Westwood, he has posted an 18-5 overall record.
ROUNDING OUT THE ROTATION
After serving primarily as UCLA’s midweek starter as a freshman in 2013, sophomore right-hander Cody Poteet will move into the weekend rotation in 2014 and will start the series finale for the Bruins on Sunday afternoon. Poteet went 4-4 with a 4.69 ERA in 11 midweek starts last season, posting a 4-6 record overall with a 4.84 ERA. He struck out 56 batters in 2013 and this past summer, played with the Walla Walla Sweets of the West Coast League, being selected as one of the league’s All-Stars.
UCLA has finished among the top three in the Pac-12 Conference each of the last eight seasons (2006-2013), the only Pac-12 team to have done so. Under John Savage, UCLA finished third from 2006 through 2009, before finishing second in 2010 and winning the confernece title in 2011 and 2012. Last season, UCLA finished third with a 21-9 Pac-12 record. Never before in school history has UCLA enjoyed an eight-year span with as many top finishes in the standings.
UCLA came in at No. 12 in the preseason Baseball America top-25 poll, marking the 35th consecutive week that the Bruins have been ranked in the top 25. The Bruins last dropped out of the poll on May 22, 2011. UCLA finished the 2013 season ranked No. 1 in each of the nation’s major polls. In the last three seasons, the Bruins have been ranked in the top 10 by Baseball America a total of 17 times. UCLA also concluded the 2013 campaign with an RPI of 9 and the No. 2 strength of schedule according to boydsworld.com.
Juniors David Berg, Grant Watson and Kevin Kramer, and sophomore James Kaprielian were all named preseason All-Americans for the 2014 season from various publications. Berg secured preseason All-America accolades from every major outlet, including Baseball America (second team), Collegiate Baseball (first team), the NCBWA (first team) and Perfect Game USA (second team). Watson and Kramer earned preseason All-America acclaim from the NCBWA (second and third team respectively) while Kaprielian was named a third-team preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball. Berg captured All-America honors from every major publication last season while Kaprielian earned freshman All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game USA.
UCLA was selected to finish third in the Pac-12’s preseason coaches’ poll. Oregon State was picked to finish first while Oregon is projected to finish second. Arizona State and Arizona rounded out the top five in that order. The remaining six teams include (in order) Stanford, California, Washington State, USC, Washington and Utah.
In conference games since 2006, UCLA ranks second in wins (132) and win percentage (.623), trailing only Arizona State. The Bruins are third in total wins (309) and are fourth in overall win percentage (.628) among Pac-12 teams. UCLA and Arizona split the 2012 Pac-12 title, and UCLA won the 2011 Pac-10 championship in outright fashion for the first time since 1986.
Returning to anchor the bullpen is All-American closer David Berg, who has enjoyed as fine a two-year career as any reliever in the history of college baseball. In two seasons, Berg has made 101 appearances, which is already good for third-most in school history, and has posted a 12-3 record with a 1.18 ERA. Berg also owns the NCAA single-season record for saves with 24 in 2013 and tied the NCAA record for most appearances in a season with 51 last year. Additionally, he became the first reliever in conference history to win Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year last season and was UCLA’s first recipient of the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award, given out to the nation’s top relief pitcher. Berg was named to the All-Pac-12 Team for the second time in his career in 2013, making him just the 25th UCLA player all-time to receive all-conference acclaim at least twice. In addition, he finished second in the country in both WHIP (walks and hits allowed per innings pitched) with a mark of 0.85 and ERA last year. Finally, Berg is the only pitcher in UCLA history to lead the conference in ERA in back-to-back seasons and is UCLA’s all-time record holder for most postseason appearances (17), postseason saves (6) and career saves (25).
LAST FOUR SEASONS
The Bruins rank among the top 10 in the nation in victories over the last four seasons (2010-13), ranking sixth in the country with 183 wins, which is also tops amongst all Pac-12 schools. UCLA and South Carolina are the only schools that have advanced to the College World Series in at least three of the last four seasons. and won a title. UCLA, Virginia and South Carolina are the only schools in the country to have hosted NCAA Regionals the last four years.
HEAD COACH JOHN SAVAGE
Head coach John Savage was named the 2013 National Coach of the Year by Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America, the ABCA and Perfect Game USA. By guiding the Bruins to their second straight College World Series last year, Savage became one of just 10 coaches all-time from the Pac-12 to lead their teams to back-to-back College World Series appearances (Frank Sancet, Jerry Kindall - Arizona; Bobby Winkles, Jim Brock - Arizona State; Pat Casey - Oregon State; Mark Marquess - Stanford; Sam Barry, Rod Dedeaux, Mike Gillespie - USC). Savage served as the pitching coach at USC from 1997-2000, where he helped lead the Trojans to the 1998 national title and another apperance at the CWS in 2000. Additionally, Savage is one of just five coaches in college baseball history to have led his team to one CWS championship, produced a No. 1 MLB Draft pick and coached a Golden Spikes Award winner. Savage helped UCLA post an overall 49-17 record in 2013, marking the second-highest single-season win total in school history, and is UCLA’s all-time winningest postseason manager with 32 postseason victories. UCLA also matched a school record with 21 conference victories in 2013. Finally, Savage has guided the Bruins to the postseason in seven of the last eight seasons has a staggering winning percentage staggering .712 since 2010.
UCLA’s 34-man roster features four seniors, seven juniors, 11 sophomores and 12 freshmen. All but two players (Pat Gallagher, Nevada; Andrew Schmidt, Colorado) hail from California. In addtion, of the 34 players from California, 21 come from Southern California, eight from Northern California and three from Central California.