Rob Henkel was a major question mark for UCLA when the baseball season began.
Now, the only question is, which mark in the Bruin record book will the junior left-hander break next?
Last Saturday, Henkel struck out a school-record 18 batters in a 2-1 victory over Washington at Jackie Robinson Stadium in the Bruins' Pacific 10 Conference opener.
The previous UCLA record was 17 set by teammate Jon Brandt against McNeese State last season.
Henkel's performance against Washington came on the heels of consecutive 16-strikeout performances against Bradley and Harvard, giving him 50 strikeouts in 22 innings.
It has been quite a run for a player who sat out most of the 1998 season and all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow two years ago Friday.
"I'm kind of in that zone," said Henkel, who has 81 strikeouts and only six walks in 50 1/3 innings. "I'm just completely relaxed and confident. I'm not sure how this is going to sound, but it's like I don't think anybody can hit me. It's a mind-set."
Against Washington, Henkel struck out the first nine batters, one short of the NCAA consecutive-strikeout record set by Barry Zito of UC Santa Barbara in 1996. Zito transferred to USC last season and wound up as a first-round draft pick of the Oakland Athletics.
Henkel, who struck out 11 and walked one in Friday's 3-1 victory over Oregon State at Corvallis, Ore., is 5-1 with a 3.58 earned-run average for the Bruins, who are 18-11 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-10.
He is scheduled to be on the mound next Friday in a series opener against 16th-ranked USC (20-10, 3-1), which lost to Arizona, 11-4, in the opener of a three-game series Friday night at Tucson. USC opened conference with a three-game sweep of Washington State.
Pepperdine is in Honolulu, playing in a round-robin tournament with Winthrop, Lewis & Clark State and Hawaii.
The Waves are hoping to return to the mainland invigorated for next week's West Coast Conference showdown with two-time defending champion Loyola Marymount.
Pepperdine began the week 18-10 overall and 10-1 in the WCC after sweeping San Diego last weekend.
The recent success is consistent with preseason predictions for a team with seven of eight starting position players returning from a club that started 30-3 and advanced to a regional final at USC last season.
Pepperdine began this season 1-5.
"We almost got buried at the start of the season," Pepperdine Coach Frank Sanchez said. "We didn't pitch well and when we made a mistake it was just amplified because teams took advantage of it almost every time."
Pepperdine has been on an offensive roll of late, scoring 10 or more runs in seven of its last 10 games heading into the week.
Junior catcher Dane Sardinha, a probable first-round draft pick in June, is batting .345 with nine home runs and 42 runs batted in. Sardinha, the Waves' all-time home run leader with 37, has thrown out eight of 16 runners trying to steal this season.
Senior right fielder Jeremy Coronado is batting a team-high .447 and had an 18-game hitting streak until it ended last week against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Sophomore left fielder Danny Garcia is hitting .426 with 30 RBIs, and sophomore first baseman Woody Cliffords is batting .363.
Pitching, traditionally the Waves' strength, has also come around.
The Waves left for Hawaii with a season-low 4.88 ERA. Pepperdine has never finished with team ERA above 5.00.
Junior right-hander Jay Adams, who had off-season shoulder surgery and did not pitch much the first month, is 2-2 with a 2.35 ERA. Sophomore right-hander Dan Haren is 4-2 with a 2.95 ERA and has won his last four decisions.
Pepperdine will need everything to be working against Loyola, which is 18-10 overall and 7-2 in the WCC after sweeping a three-game series against Santa Clara last weekend.
Loyola has hit 43 homers and is on pace to break the school record of 86.
Junior catcher Scott Walter is batting .364 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs. Senior infielder Anthony Angel is batting .322 and three of his seven homers were grand slams. Outfielders Mike Hymes and Jason Aspito are batting .375 and .369, respectively.
The Lions, who defeated Pepperdine five times in six games last season, will probably win the WCC's Coast division title. Pepperdine is regarded as the favorite to win the West Division.
The winner of next week's series will host the WCC championship series if both teams win their divisions.
Sixth-ranked Cal State Fullerton concludes a three-game Big West Conference series at New Mexico State today and plays an exhibition against the Angels on Sunday.
Fullerton (18-7, 8-0) plays host to Sacramento State in a Big West series next weekend, then plays host to No. 14 Long Beach State (19-7, 4-2) in a three-game conference series April 14-16.