LOS ANGELES—Of the two starting pitchers in Friday's Los Angeles Regional game between San Francisco and UCLA, Gerrit Cole had the less effective fastball.
No pitcher in college baseball can match Cole's consistently premium velocity, of course, and he worked comfortably in the 94-97 mph range on Friday. But the Dons got their fair share of good swings against his fastball, rapping out 11 hits against Cole in 7 1/3 innings—some that were squared up, and others that were not.
By contrast, UCLA's hitters got very few good swings against USF sophomore righthander Kyle Zimmer's 90-94 fastball, or any of his other pitches. Zimmer was simply masterful, allowing just four hits and no walks in his first career complete game, leading the Dons to a 3-0 upset of the top-seeded Bruins. Zimmer, like Cole, recorded 11 strikeouts—six of them looking, a testament to his ability to hit the mitt all night. He threw 115 pitches—80 of them for strikes.
"I just thought he was sharp from the beginning," USF coach Nino Giarratano said. "He's a three-pitch mix guy, and when you have three pitches working, it's tough. He was able to tilt the fastball, throw the changeup there when he needed it. What a remarkable outing for him, and what a time to have that outing."
Zimmer got into a groove early, retiring 11 consecutive hitters after Jeff Gelalich's one-out double in the first. That streak ended when Cody Regis singled leading off the fifth, but Zimmer proceeded to set down the next 14 batters he faced.
"I started off just going after them with fastballs," Zimmer said. "I was really pitching off my fastball, changeup and curveball. My curveball felt pretty good out of my hand today, so I was using that down in the zone."
Zimmer showed very good feel for his breaking ball, throwing a slower, bigger curveball around 77-78 and a harder, shorter version in the low 80s. But the development of his changeup has really allowed him to develop into an ace atop the San Francisco rotation—a role he assumed when senior Matt Lujan was lost for the season with an undisclosed injury on May 7. Giarratano said he entered the season with a split-finger, but the Dons took that away from him and replaced it with the low-80s changeup, which had good life on Friday.
The Dons have a lot of confidence with Zimmer on the mound, so they left him in the game when the Bruins loaded the bases on two singles and a hit batsman with two outs in the ninth. He escaped the jam unscathed by freezing Regis on a borderline fastball over the outside corner.
"I thought he pitched great all night. I thought it was his game to win or lose at that point," Giarratano said. "That was one of the best pitching performances I've seen from a sophomore in a setting like this."
For his part, Cole wasn't bad, allowing three runs and striking out 11, but falling to 6-8 on the season. His 85-86 slider was very effective, serving as the putaway pitch for eight of his 11 punchouts. He used the fastball to get the other three—two of them swinging. He also had his good changeup at his disposal against lefties, throwing it at 85-86 with fading, sinking action.
"I felt I had three pitches tonight," Cole said. "The fastball command was pretty good. Unless it's really middle-middle, it's tough for me to tell exactly where it ends up when they swing the bat."
UCLA now must run through the loser's bracket to keep its season alive, which means there is a real possibility this was Cole's last start as a Bruin. Even after an up-and-down junior season, the prodigiously talented Cole has a legitimate chance to be the top overall pick in next week's draft. But in another sign of Cole's team-first, level-headed mentality, his thoughts after the game were on Saturday, not next week.
"We can't be putting our heads down saying, 'Poor me,' " Cole said. "We're a long way from out of this thing, and we just have to learn from tonight."
Zimmer's performance didn't teach the Bruins anything they didn't already know, but it did reinforce the value of hitting your spots, especially with the fastball.
"We just didn't fight enough pitches off with two strikes," UCLA coach John Savage said. "If they're too close to take, that's the old adage—you can't sit there with the bat on your shoulders with two strikes. Zimmer just looked fantastic to me. I don't know what it was, but he threw three pitches for strikes, and it seemed like he threw strikes all night . . . Zimmer was good as we've seen all year."
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