Much of the Pacific-10 conference has been at the mercy of UCLA Bruins' right-hander Trevor Bauer.
Entering this weekend, Bauer leads the nation in strikeouts (142), strikeouts per nine innings (13.94), and hits allowed per nine innings (4.42). Last Saturday while facing No. 3 Oregon State, Bauer fanned 15. This Saturday it was the Ducks' turn to face the player who is less human and more puppet master.
Bauer was able to pull the strings on any one of his six pitches, as he fanned 12 and earned his fifth consecutive complete game in a 3-1 Bruins (26-16, 13-7 Pac-10) victory at PK Park.
The two, three and four hitters in the Oregon (23-22, 5-12 Pac-10) lineup had a combined eight strikeouts--Shawn Peterson, in the four-hole, earned the golden sombrero with four strikeouts. Whether it was a curveball in the dirt or a 4-seam fastball at the letters, Bauer was going to throw it--effectively.
"Everything was kind of intermediated," Bauer said. "When I needed a pitch, whatever it was, I thought that I could go to it. I had confidence in all six of my pitches tonight."Bauer entered the 2011 season tied in career strikeouts with UCLA's Friday night starter, Gerrit Cole. Each pitcher has now started 12 games, and Bauer has 68 more strikeouts than Cole.
This season those of Bauer have dwarfed Cole's numbers. Entering Saturday, Bauer has a record of 8-2 with a 1.47 earned run average and .143 opponent batting average. Yet, Cole is still ranked higher than Bauer because of his size and major league qualities. The knock on Bauer has been his unorthodox delivery that draws comparisons to Tim Lincecum. His unorthodox pre game routines, and seemingly lack of concern about his arm also has scouts weary. 10 minutes before the game Bauer was in the outfield throwing the ball roughly 350 feet to loosen up his arm.
But Bauer performance has many predicting him to win college baseball player of the year. Bauer's focus is still on helping the Bruins get back to the college baseball World Series.
"We're trying to win the Pac-10 and get back to Omaha, so it's good to go out there and give my team a chance to win," he said.
Oregon's regional hopes are fading with each conference loss, and the lack of offense has been well documented. Nobody knows that more than Ducks pitcher Madison Boer who has been on the loosing end of a number of starts despite consistently strong outings.
It was the same story again tonight as Boer pitched 8 1/3 innings, and allowed only three runs on five strikeouts and three walks.
"I was throwing a real good 2-seam today," he said. "It had a lot of movement, and I got a lot of ground balls. I felt real good today."
Boer ran into trouble during a handful of two-strike counts where he tried to use his fastball to overpower hitters, but left the ball over the plate. Boer's struggles came largely in the fifth inning as he walked the first batter of the inning, then allowed a double to shortstop Pat Valaika, which scored the runner from first. The next batter, Kevin Williams, singled and scored Valaika with a base hit up the middle. The Bruins broke a 1-1 tie that inning to take a 3-1 lead. Boer cruised after that inning, as he only allowed two more hits the rest of the game.
The only offensive burst for the Ducks came from freshman Ryon Healy, who connected on a Bauer fastball over the plate for a home run.
Healy, whose solid performance at the plate has earned him a place in the starting lineup, provides signs of hope for the Ducks future. He has found his grove with the bat, and does not appear phased by pressure or the opponent.
"He earned playing time the old-fashioned way -- he earned it," said head coach George Horton. "He didn't ask for it. He's been practicing better and got after it. Since we put him in there, he's been a bright spot. Hopefully it continues and some other guys heat up."
Oregon's final chance to salvage the series will come Sunday. The Ducks will look to avoid the sweep behind the arm of Alex Keudell.