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Heimlich, Canning Duel In Westwood

LOS ANGELES—No. 1 Oregon State took a 4-2 victory over UCLA in 10 innings on Friday night, riding a lights-out performance by lefthander Luke Heimlich. The junior ace took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, and the Beavers gave him a two-run lead by the time Heimlich left the game with one out in the eighth.

UCLA tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a towering two-run home run from pinch-hitter Nick Kern, but Oregon State responded with two runs in the top of the tenth. The Beavers are now 31-2 on the season and 15-1 in Pac 12 play.

“Taking the mound in the first all my stuff was working,” Heimlich said. “I knew it was going to be a competitive game, so I just figured we had to start off well and get things going.”

Heimlich had excellent command of his fastball and breaking ball through most of the outing. Of his 117 pitches, 72 were fastballs, 38 were breaking balls and seven were changeups. Heimlich threw his fastball for a strike 68 percent (49 of 72) of the time and induced eight swings and misses with it. He threw his curveball for a strike 63 percent (24 of 38) of the time and induced four swings and misses with it.

Heimlich’s feel for his changeup came and went, but he was so effective with his other two pitches that his changeup wasn’t necessary. Oregon State head coach Pat Casey said that he thought Heimlich showed enough with his changeup to force UCLA to respect its presence.

Heimlich is an excellent athlete. He gathers himself well and stays back over the rubber. From the windup, he works from the third-base side of the rubber and coils his hips and shoulders slightly before straightening out his front leg and driving off the rubber. He has a short arm stroke and hides the ball well behind his back. He consistently found his three-quarters arm slot on Friday, occasionally dropping to a lower slot when throwing his changeup. Heimlich showed a consistently stable, online landing and the ability to get down over his front side. He throws across his body with recoil after release.

In the fourth inning, Heimlich was around the zone, but lost his command a bit and walked the first two batters of the inning. A couple of breaking balls slipped out of his hand and backed up to his arm side, and then he yanked a few fastballs.

Oregon State third baseman Michael Gretler proved to be one of the heroes of the game. With runners on first and second and no outs in the fourth, he caught a well-hit line drive off the bat of Kyle Cuellar. After a double steal, Gretler fielded a ground ball up the left side and made an accurate throw home to beat a runner at the plate and preserve the shutout. Heimlich struck out the next batter to escape the jam.

Heimlich’s best attributes are his command, athleticism, deception and pitchability. His pure stuff has also been trending in the right direction of late. His fastball worked at 90-93 early in Friday’s outing before settling in at 88-90 later on. He was able to manipulate the velocity and length of his curveball and throw it to either side of the plate. His curveball often showed long three-quarter break, but it plays well off his fastball coming from the same arm slot.

“It’s a lot different than in past years,” Heimlich said of his curveball. “I’ve kind of gotten two different speeds to my breaking ball. Earlier in the count I’ll throw a little bit slower, bigger one to the outer half to righties or the inner half to lefties, and then when it’s more of an out-pitch later in the count, I try to tighten up my grip a little bit and get a little sharper break and get swings and misses.”

Heimlich, officially listed at 6-foot, 190 pounds, impressed Bruins head coach John Savage, a noted pitching developer and evaluator.

“I’ve always been impressed with him,” Savage said. “He’s very athletic, competitive. He repeats himself . . . There’s control and then there’s command. And he’s got command.”

“Lefthanders are hard to come by. They’re hard to get to college, the real high end guys. Most of the really good ones are about that size—5-11, 6-feet. I don’t know how tall he is, but it’s a functional guy, where sometimes that bigger guy takes a longer to figure things out, where (Heimlich)—and Grant Watson was the same way—they fit in right away and they can repeat themselves, and this guy has gotten stronger so his stuff has jumped a little bit. So, he’s done a nice job of progressing.”

Savage got a strong performance from his own starter as well. Righthander Griffin Canning—a likely first-round pick—gave the Bruins seven strong innings, battling through a pesky Oregon State lineup. Canning struck out 10 batters and allowed two runs on six hits and three walks. He showed late life on his low fastball and was able to pitch at both sides of the plate.

Canning was sharp early on, pitching at 92-94 in the first few innings, bumping 95 in the first. He showed excellent late break on his breaking pitches early on and flashed late tumble on his changeup against lefthanded hitters. He threw a longer curveball with more top-to-bottom break and a firmer, shorter slider that also broke with vertical shape, though it showed less depth. As he tired out, Canning got around his curveball more often and sometimes struggled to get on top of it, but both his breaking balls project as out pitches at the highest level.

“I though his stuff was good,” Savage said. “Still not as efficient as we’d like, but beggars can’t be choosers. Whenever you get paid a lot of money by going six innings and giving up three runs in the big leagues, and you go seven and give up two, I think you would take it.”

The Beavers forced Canning to work. Sophomore Nick Madrigal set the tempo with an excellent nine-pitch at-bat to start the game. The Beavers forced Canning to throw two separate 29-pitch innings in the game. Oregon State consistently fouled off pitches on the corners and showed excellent strike zone awareness and discipline.

In the 10th inning, facing Jake Bird, the Beavers’ sound approach paid off. Bird, who pitched at 89-91 and showed a firm 84-86 mph slider, was a bit wild to start the inning; sophomore Steven Kwan took a four-pitch walk to lead off. Bird rebounded to strike out KJ Harrison for the first out before freshman Tyler Malone took a six-pitch walk. Michael Gretler then hit a one-hopper off the wall in left to give the Beavers the lead, and Jack Anderson added an insurance run with a single to right.

Freshman lefthander Jake Mulholland, who had blown the save in the ninth, rebounded with a 1-2-3 10th inning to seal the victory for Oregon State. The Beavers will start sophomore Bryce Fehmel against UCLA’s Moises Ceja tonight. Drew Rasmussen, who has yet to pitch this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, has been cleared to return and could pitch out of the bullpen for the Beavers this weekend.

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