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Previewing UCLA with Bruins Nation's Ryan Rosenblatt

In order to get to know UCLA better before this weekend's series, BTD did a quick Q&A with Ryan Rosenblatt over at Bruins Nation. Be sure to check out BN over the next few days for another perspective on this weekend's pivotal Pac-10 series. His answers are below. Enjoy!

Q. Gerrit Cole is Friday's probable starter for the Bruins. How has he looked so far this season?

A. Cole has as great of stuff as he's ever had, but he's stumbled in the last couple weeks. The junior is still going to be a top-three pick in this June's MLB Draft and maybe even the number one pick. That's what happens when you're 6'4'' with a fastball that sits in the mid 90's and can touch 98 as late as the ninth inning.

The thing for Cole this year was about becoming more efficient so he's using more two-seamers and change ups, getting fewer strike outs, but pitching deeper into games. It's a little bit of a make over for Cole and he's had some growing pains with it, but even so, he's better than 98% of pitchers in the country and if you get the chance to see him in person, his pure stuff will wow you.

Q. After Cole, what should we expect to see out of the bullpen? A mixture of relievers, or just a long reliever and a closer?

A. We're not really sure what to make of the bullpen right now. Mitchell Beacom is the go-to guy out there because he's a 6'10'' lefty who throws sidearm and is the only pitcher in the entire bullpen with more than five career innings coming into the year. He usually works as the set-up man and freshman Nick Vander Tuig is the closer.

UCLA likes to use only those two when they can, but sometimes Zack Weiss gets a look and really, the bullpen has struggled besides Beacom lately so things could be changed up some this weekend. The good thing for the Bruins is that Cole and Bauer usually throw eight or nine innings so they don't need the pen much on Friday or Saturday.

Q. The Beavers are a very young team, what about the Bruins? Are they very young, and which newcomers have made an impact thus far?

A. It's a mix for the Bruins. Cole and Bauer are THE guys on the team and are juniors, but beyond them it's a lot of youth. Catcher, first base and right field are juniors as well, as is Beacom, but every other guy who gets semi-significant time at the plate, in the field or out of the bullpen are freshman or sophomores. That said, several of those guys are sophomores who played extensively as freshmen in last year's run to the College World Series so young does not always mean inexperienced.

The freshmen who have been the most impressive are Adam Pluko and Pat Valaika. Plutko can't get a win because his defense, offense or bullpen can't help him out, but he's pitching more than well enough. He has a 1.69 ERA this season as a freshman and .190 batting average against so that tells you just about all you need to know about how good he is.

Valaika starts at shortstop and got off to a slow start, but in the last few weeks he's really come along as has been the guy towards the bottom of the lineup getting on base for the top of the lineup to drive in so he's played a huge role of late.

Q. What is UCLA's offensive identity? More "swing for the fences", or a lot of small ball like the Beavers play?

A. It's definitely small ball for the Bruins. Rick Vanderhook came in a few years ago to handle the offense from Cal St. Fullerton so the small ball offense you see at Fullerton is what the Bruins have.

There aren't many guys in the UCLA lineup who can hit for power so they go small ball out of necessity too, but that's how they want to play. You'll see bunts, hit and runs and stolen base attempts regularly this weekend with guys swinging for the gaps, not the fences.

Q. What's the weather going to be like in Los Angeles this time of year?

A. The weather will be the same that it is pretty much year-round. Sunny. Poor us. It should be in the 70's and sunny all weekend so no problems there.

Rest of the Q&A after the break.

Q. Who should Beaver fans be looking out for on UCLA's roster?

A. Right now the guy I would keep an eye on is Beau Amaral. He's riding an 11-game hit streak and has really picked it up of late. He has a combination of power and speed so he can make his impact a lot of different ways.

As the son of a former major leaguer, Rich Amaral, he grew up around the game and is a savvy player as well. He also has a knack for showing up at the right time, as he showed two weeks ago in the series finale against Arizona when he hit the game-tying two-run homer and then game-winning three-RBI double to bring UCLA back from 5-3 down to win.

Q. As of right now, what do you see happening in the postseason for the Beavers and Bruins?

A. For the Beavers, I don't see any way they don't finish out the season as a top-three Pac-10 team and grab a Regional host spot. That's seems like a new guarantee to me with their high Pac-10 finish, top 10 RPI and great record against RPI top 50 teams so the Beavers are sitting pretty.

As for the Bruins, it's a bit different. I don't see them struggling to get into a Regional, but their poor pre-conference play made it almost necessary for them to have a great conference run. They were working their way back towards contention for a Regional host spot, but the series loss to Stanford last weekend hurt that. A conference title would give UCLA the chance to host again, but more likely the Bruins are looking at a two seed in Fullerton's Regional.

Q. For Saturday's game, Trevor Bauer is UCLA's probable starter. Can you give us the story behind his amazing hat?

 
Photo via larrybrownsports.com

A. Contrary to popular belief, Bauer's hat isn't a matter of superstition. He's claims that it's hard to get a hat that fits just right with the corners just how he likes them so when he committed to UCLA in his junior year of high school and got the hat, he started wearing it regularly.

He got it worn in just the way he likes and has worn it for all games, practices and work outs for four years now. As a result, it's more grey than blue and really easy to pick him out in the dugout.

Q. Prediction?

A. Honestly, it's impossible to pick against Oregon St. losing a series until they do. They're playing too damn well right now, home or away so I'll take the Beavers winning two of three.

Thanks Ryan!

--Connor