UCLA heads into the College World Series championship series with its pitching staff set up the way it would be for a Pac-12 meeting with Stanford or Oregon State or crosstown rival Southern Cal.
And that's a dangerous thing.
Staying in the winners bracket and needing just three games to make the CWS final has allowed Bruins coach John Savage to have Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Grant Watson all rested and ready to go against Mississippi State. After practice Saturday, Savage called it the “the best situation we've been in” at the CWS.
So far in Omaha, the trio has combined to allow just two runs and 12 hits over 20 innings while each has recorded a win.
Plutko (9-3, 2.29 ERA) is in the usual position of starting it off as UCLA (47-17) prepares for the Monday night opener with Mississippi State (51-18). The three-time All-Pac 12 pitcher emerged from some tall shadows last season after being the Sunday starter behind Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole in 2011.
“I've taken the ball on Friday night the last two years,” Plutko said. “So my preparation won't be too much different. I'm just going to focus on what I do and executing my pitches, and that's pretty much it.”
Savage went with Watson on Friday night — rather than bring back Plutko for his second CWS start — and UCLA beat North Carolina 4-1 to validate the decision. Eliminating the Tar Heels also kept the Bruins from a do-or-die Saturday game that also could have shaken up their staff.
With Plutko and Vander Tuig (13-4, 2.31), UCLA has two juniors who Savage said won't be overwhelmed by anything they see.
“They've won 54 games in their career,” he said. “They've thrown over 600 innings. They both were here as freshmen when we had Gerrit and Trevor. So they learned. They learned how to be in the spotlight and to perform at a high level.”
The dominance by the UCLA starters and bullpen at the CWS also has allowed the Bruins to survive and advance despite its offense doing just enough to scratch out eight runs and 16 hits in 26 innings.