Cal baseball faces No. 11 UCLA, looks to rediscover offense

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Heading into its second weekend of conference play, the Cal baseball team hoped to continue rolling with an eight-game winning streak. But a 3-1 loss to San Jose State on Wednesday night brought the streak to a grinding halt.

As the Bears (13-8, 3-0) head to Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles to take on No. 11 UCLA (15-3, 3-0), momentum will not be on their side.

An offensive explosion against Utah last weekend in Salt Lake City seemed to quell uncertainty about the Bears’ performance at the plate, but the Spartan pitchers held Cal to only one run — Devon Rodriguez’s solo home run in the fourth inning.

Rodriguez continued his consistency at the plate as he recorded two of the Bears’ five hits. But the usual standouts, outfielders Brian Celsi and Devin Pearson, and leading hitter Chris Paul all went hitless in the game.

This is not a good time for Cal’s bats to go silent. The UCLA pitching staff is among the nation’s best and will not likely provide the Bears with many scoring opportunities.

The Bruins’ pitchers have not allowed a run in their last 32 innings of work. The staff allowed fewer than two runs in 10 of the Bruins’ 18 games this season.

In Friday’s 6 p.m. opener, Cal freshman Ryan Mason will take the mound against UCLA junior Adam Plutko. Mason has won all three of his decisions while posting a 2.93 ERA this season. After coming out of the bullpen in the beginning of the year, Mason has won both of his starts in consecutive weekends.

Plutko is 2-0 this season in five starts. The righty maintained a 2.73 ERA throughout those five starts, striking out 19 batters in 29.2 innings pitched.

Cal senior left-hander Justin Jones will get the start on Saturday after a perfect inning of relief against the Spartans. Although he had a few rough games to begin his 2013 campaign, Jones has settled into his role as the Saturday starter and brought his ERA down to 4.62.

Jones’ UCLA counterpart, Nick Vander Tuig, is 3-2 in five starts with a 1.80 ERA. The junior right-hander has struck out 20 batters in his team-leading 27.0 innings pitched.

UCLA sophomore lefty Grant Wilson (4-0, 1.10) will close out the series for the Bruins against a pitcher that Cal coach David Esquer has not announced.

The Bruins developed themselves as a powerhouse both nationally and in-conference in past years. UCLA has won five of its last six series against Cal. But both teams have played well this season.

Last weekend, the Bears swept Utah, outscoring the Utes, 24-14, in three games. UCLA also began conference play with a sweep, taking three consecutive games against Washington.

The Bears showed this season that they are capable of scoring in spurts but have all too often fallen into scoreless slumps.

For the Bears to pose a challenge against the Bruins this weekend, they will need to give their pitchers plenty of run support. But that won’t come easy against the Bruins’ refined pitching staff.

Warren Laufer covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]