LOS ANGELES—Adam Plutko has pitched in more than his share of big games over the last three years for UCLA. A staple of the Bruins’ weekend rotation since his freshman year, Plutko has been a key part of three straight teams that have hosted regionals, and he has been at his best in the postseason. He threw 7 2/3 innings of one-hit, shutout ball in his first career NCAA Tournament game against San Francisco in 2011, then earned three wins in UCLA’s run to Omaha as a sophomore last year.
On Friday, the junior righthander threw seven strong innings to pick up his fifth career postseason victory, most in UCLA history. He allowed just two runs (one earned) on six hits and a walk while striking out four over seven strong innings in a 5-3 win against San Diego State.
“It means a lot,” Plutko said of the postseason wins record. “When you first commit to a program like UCLA, you just hope that you can live up to your expectations. For me to set the record, with all the other great pitchers—to even be talked about in the same sentence with Trevor Bauer, and every single record he owns here—it’s unbelievable.”
It was a characteristically thoughtful answer from Plutko, who fits perfectly in with UCLA’s tradition of personable, charismatic stars, including Bauer and Gerrit Cole. While Plutko lacks the overpowering stuff of those two righthanders, he has been the definition of consistency for three straight years. He went 7-4, 2.01 as a freshman, 12-3, 2.48 as a sophomore and is 8-3, 2.51 as a junior.
In his 15 non-weather-shortened starts this year, Plutko has completed at least five innings every time out, lasting six or more innings 14 times. He has allowed four or more runs in a start just twice.
Plutko’s rock-solid outing against the Aztecs was typical. He made big pitches with runners on base to thwart SDSU rallies, and he really found his command in the middle innings, retiring the final five batters he faced. A flyball pitcher, Plutko excels by locating his 87-90 fastball to all four quadrants, and he isn’t afraid to pitch up in the zone, forcing hitters to get underneath his four-seamer. He recorded eight flyball outs Friday.
“I definitely wasn’t my best out there, but I grinded,” Plutko said. “Coach (John Savage) said earlier that in the sixth and the seventh, that’s when my experience came in. And I think that was true.
“I started commanding my fastball. I don’t think I did a very good job of that early. In the end, it paid off. I got in a rhythm with the umpire, Fred (Cannon), and I kind of had a good idea of his strike zone, and just went from there.”
Plutko mixed in his slider, curveball and plus changeup effectively, keeping the Aztecs off balance.
“I think he made some big pitches in big spots,” San Diego State catcher Jake Romanski said. “He’s a location guy—he’s not overpowering, but he made big pitches, and that was pretty much the difference.”
Plutko always makes big pitches, so it’s easy to take his reliability for granted. But Savage and the Bruins know exactly how lucky they are to have Plutko, who has stepped out of the shadow of Bauer and Cole to carve out his own lasting legacy.
“I think certainly if you look at the whole body of work, he’s right up there with those guys,” Savage said, referring to Bauer and Cole. “Maybe not in terms of pure stuff, big stuff. But hey, man, all you’ve got to to is look at the major leagues and there’s a bunch of guys making a living making pitches. He’s had one of the best careers of any Bruin who’s ever pitched here, and certainly he’s one of the great postseason pitchers in school history.”