Trojans’ bullpen falters in loss to Bruins

When freshman outfielder Vahn Bozoian smacked a sixth-inning solo home run in USC’s Sunday matinee against No. 12 UCLA at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Westwood, the Trojans were suddenly tied in a game that shouldn’t have been close. Bozoian’s homer was just USC’s second hit of the day, while the Bruins had already left nine runners on base at that point.

Yet the score stood at 1-1, and the Trojans were right there with a chance to steal the game. Until the bottom of the sixth, that is.

UCLA third baseman Kevin Kramer smacked a bases-clearing, three-RBI double against freshman pitcher Sean Adler to break the game open and give the Bruins a 4-1 lead. UCLA tacked on two more in the eighth to coast to a 6-1 victory.

“Obviously, Adler didn’t have it today,” USC head coach Dan Hubbs said. “He made mistakes to the wrong part of the lineup and the wrong hitter, and he paid for it.”

UCLA starting pitcher Grant Watson was stellar, allowing just three hits over seven innings of one-run ball. He was a model of efficiency, throwing just 77 pitches, and didn’t walk a single Trojan batter.

“He’s a strike-thrower,” said USC senior outfielder Greg Zebrack, who was just 1-for-4 against Watson. “He was around the zone all game, but we couldn’t get many base runners on him. But he threw well, hats off to him.”

While the Bruins’ staff didn’t walk a single batter over nine innings, the Trojans walked nine over the eight that they pitched. Freshman starter Kyle Twomey issued five free passes over five laborious innings but pitched out of several jams and finished with just one unearned run.

“I thought Kyle [Twomey] got squeezed a bit,” Hubbs said. “But he really battled. He threw quite a few pitches that weren’t called strikes that could have been.”

Indeed, Hubbs could be seen jawing with home plate umpire Joe Maiden a number of times in the early innings, but his young pitcher kept the Trojans in the game. Twomey was removed before the sixth inning after throwing 112 pitches, many in high-stress situations.

But the bullpen let the Trojans down. Adler gave up two hits, a walk and a hit batsman to the four hitters he faced. He was replaced by fellow freshman Sean Silva, who walked three batters over two innings. Senior Matt Munson then came in and gave up two doubles and a single to the three batters he faced.

“We have to figure out who can pitch reliably out of the ‘pen,” Hubbs said. “But we kind of have to go with the hot hand. We have a lot of youth, and they pitch that way.”
The lone bright spot was freshman Marc Huberman, who sent the Bruins down in order in his one inning of work. But like many who have seen significant time out of the bullpen this year, Huberman is a freshman, and, therefore, prone to bouts of inconsistency.

Adler has allowed three hits, five walks and a hit batsman to the last eight batters he’s faced, being charged with four earned runs in the process. Prior to that, he had yet to allow so much as a hit in his five prior outings.

“Unless things start to change in the bullpen, we’re going to have to just play the matchups,” Hubbs said. “We don’t have the consistency back there to have a set order.”

After four-straight games against ranked teams, the Trojans get a small respite when they take on Pepperdine (7-8) tonight at 6 p.m., back home at Dedeaux Field.