UCLA baseball Coach Gary Adams entered the season with some fears about his pitching. Oh, he had plenty of pitchers, 12 to be exact, but they were unproven.
"Our pitching is a very big question mark," he said before the first game against Cal Poly Pomona.
What Adams wanted was for someone, anyone, to emerge from the pack and join sophomore Dana Ridenour in the starting rotation. One of those he had high hopes for was Alex Sanchez, a freshman right-hander from Antioch High who was drafted as an outfielder by the Chicago Cubs on the 20th round last summer.
"Alex is a great athlete, but we need pitchers, so he'll concentrate on pitching this year," Adams said.
UCLA is off to its best start in years. The Bruins are 15-5-1 overall, and 5-1 in the Pacific 10 Southern Division. And, interestingly, one of the reasons is pitching. The team earned-run average is 3.89. In 186 innings the staff has allowed only 170 hits and 106 walks.
Sanchez certainly has done his part. Not only did he join the starting rotation, but he's become the ace. He's 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA, and in 35 innings has yielded just 28 hits and 17 walks while striking out 39.
Last Friday, he beat Arizona and left-hander Joe Magrane, one of the country's premier college pitchers, 3-2. He limited the Wildcats to one run and three singles while walking one before leaving the game with one out in the sixth inning after he strained the ulnar nerve is his right elbow.
The mere mention of Sanchez's name makes Adams smile because he knows he has a potentially outstanding pitcher. "Alex has really done the job," Adams said.
Sanchez, who turned down a $50,000 offer by the Cubs because he wanted to attend UCLA and play in the Pac-10, says he's satisfied with his performance against college competition, but it's a learning experience.
"I'm doing all right, so far," he said. "I'm getting my pitches over and pitching my game. I throw hard and go after people. Here, the batters are hitters, not swingers . . . they're better players. In high school you can get away with throwing wild in the strike zone, you can still get your 13 strikeouts. At this level, it's different. You have to pitch."
Sanchez said that before his college career ends, he'd like to hit and possibly play a little outfield.
"This being my first year, I want to concentrate on one thing--pitching," he said. "I don't want to do both now and take a chance of being mediocre at both. Hopefully, I'll be more mature as a pitcher next year and I'll be able to swing the bat.
"The coaches told me that they haven't forgotten about me (as a position player or a designated hitter). It's just that we need pitching to hold the other teams. But I definitely want to hit."
Sanchez was heavily recruited. California, Arizona State and Pepperdine were some of the other schools seeking his services.
"It would have been nice playing at Cal. It's close to Antioch, and my family and friends could have seen me play. But I pitched in that area all my life. I wanted to get away from home but not too far. I liked Pepperdine, it's a beautiful school and all, but it's small.
"I knew I made the right decision about coming here after my recruiting visit. I really like the UCLA atmosphere, the area, the weather. I'm happy here."
But not as happy as Adams.
Whereas college basketball is known for its small, energy-packed arenas called pits, college baseball now has its version of the same. It's UC Santa Barbara's Campus Diamond. The park seats 1,000, and it is always filled, especially for big weekend games. An estimated crowd of 1,400 sat in the fog one recent Sunday afternoon to cheer the Gauchos to a 3-2 victory over USC.
There's a special section reserved for the most vocal Gaucho rooters, mostly volleyball and basketball players, who call themselves "The Hammerheads." These people are big baseball fans, and their behavior is sometimes quite rowdy.
Unfortunately for the Gauchos, their antics had no effect on Fresno State last Saturday, as the Bulldogs swept a doubleheader.
Thirteen For the Book: Nevada Las Vegas and Cal State Long Beach set an NCAA record Saturday when they hit 13 home runs (7 by Las Vegas, 6 by Long Beach) in a wild Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. game played in 48 m.p.h. winds at Las Vegas. The Rebels won, 24-22.
The previous record of 12 was set by Denver (8) and Air Force (4) May 13, 1968, and tied by Miami (9) and Jacksonville (3) March 8, 1969.
The 46 runs isn't a record, however. Denver beat Air Force, 33-29, in that same game. The Rebels and 49ers combined for 41 hits, but that's short of the record of 59 set by, you guessed it, Denver and Air Force.
Baseball Notes Catcher Todd Zeile returned to the UCLA lineup Sunday after missing eight games because of a concussion he suffered Feb. 18 against Santa Barbara. He showed no ill effects and even threw out two of Arizona's fastest runners, Tom Hinzo and Randy Hayes, attempting to steal second. Zeile, a sophomore, was injured in a violent home plate collision when a Santa Barbara player tried to dislodge the ball. Zeile held on despite being knocked flat. According to UCLA assistant Dennis Delany, the runner would have been safe had he slid.