March 17, 2010


Nine Innings with Steve Rodriguez

By Phil Stanton Co-Founder


The UCLA Bruins are one of the early surprises in 2010, off to a school-record start at 13-0. They were 3-10 at this point a season ago.


One of the keys to the success has been catcher Steve Rodriguez (left). The sophomore hit .179 a season ago in 95 at-bats with two doubles, two homers, 14 runs and 10 RBI. This year, Rodriguez is batting .375 with five homers, 13 runs and 12 RBI.


Rodriguez also handles an outstanding pitching staff. The Bruins had walked 35 and struck out 173 in 117.0 innings with a 2.00 ERA. Opponents are hitting .188 against UCLA. Fellow sophomores Gerrit Cole (4-0, 2.10, 25.2 IP, 12 H, 4 BB, 41 K) and Trevor Bauer (3-0, 2.38, 22.2 IP, 13 H, 6 BB, 38 K) have been superb as starters. Closer Dan Klein (1-0, 3 Sv, 0.00 ERA, 11.0 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 14 K) has been automatic at the end of games.


Rodriguez recently took time to answer our questions.


First Inning - What is the biggest key for the strong start for UCLA?

Our team’s mentality has a lot to do with our recent success. We take the game one pitch at a time. Our offense has been taking quality at-bats, and our pitching staff has refined their mental game. The physical aspect for our pitchers has always been there, but they’ve really improved their mental game.


Second Inning - How much confidence has the team received from going 2-0 against teams from the SEC and 4-0 against the Big 12?

We treat every opponent the same, regardless of which conference they compete in. We just try to go out there and play our game. Certainly it’s nice to be recognized, nationally, by winning the non-conference games against quality competition. But we don’t put any extra emphasis on a team because of their conference affiliation.


Third Inning - What has been the top factor for your improvement at the plate?

I’ve been able to slow the game down when I’m at the plate. It’s about going pitch-to-pitch in an at-bat and trying to put a good ball on the swing every time. I’ve learned not to throw at-bats away, mentally.


Fourth Inning - What did you take from your summer experience in the New England Collegiate League?

I learned to become more vocal and have a larger presence on the field. I didn’t know that many guys to start out with. But in order to know your teammates better, you have to become more vocal, and I did that. That has helped me at UCLA this season.


Fifth Inning - What have you seen from behind the plate this season from the Bruin pitching staff?

Our guys are much tougher, mentally. Their ability to pitch hasn’t changed much, but they don’t get frustrated as easily. They have no fear against any batter that comes to the plate. Their stronger mentality has allowed them to become that much more successful.


Sixth Inning - How do you explain the tremendous control of the staff, with 35 walks and 173 strikeouts in 117 innings?

It’s a result of their bullpen sessions, and how they go about their bullpens. They do a good job at making their bullpens game-like, and they strive for perfection in those sessions. They realize that they don’t need every strike to be called – for example, if they miss one pitch or don’t get the call they are looking for, they realize that they still control that at-bat and can still get that batter out.


Seventh Inning - What makes Gerrit Cole so strong on the mound?

People obviously look at his velocity, as well as his slider, as his key pitches to shut down teams. But I’d have to say that it is also his changeup. He has a strong grasp on that pitch and has confidence in that pitch. When you have a guy with a fastball and slider like Gerrit does, and then he throws in that changeup, he can be very difficult to hit. Gerrit is a competitor who thrives on competing on the big stage.


Eighth Inning - What is the key to Trevor Bauer’s success on the hill?

His greatest strength is his ability to throw every one of his pitches, at any time that he wants, for a strike. His throwing program is very unique and allows him to last so long in games. Trevor’s strong stamina helps him succeed on the mound.


Ninth Inning - Is there competition among the starters to out-perform each other?

There’s definitely a little internal competition among our starting rotation, but its good competition. They don’t necessarily want to make the other guy look bad, but they do want to perform just as well, if not better, than their teammates. As a whole, that makes our starting rotation that much stronger.


(photo courtesy of UCLA Media Relations Office)