- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Gerrit Cole is frustrated. Even more so because he doesn't have any answers to his recent run of sub-par pitching performances.
So, unable to come up with a better solution after giving up a career-high seven runs in UCLA's 7-5 loss to Oregon State on Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium, he tossed his hat into a garbage can in disgust.
"I've got to change something," he said.
Cole gave up 10 hits along with those seven runs, failing to get out of the fifth inning as UCLA (22-15, 10-6) dropped the first game of a key series against the Pac-10 Conference leading Beavers (31-8, 11-2).
But of bigger concern is Cole, a junior right-hander who is UCLA's ace and a projected top-three pick in June's amateur draft. He has now lost three consecutive starts for the first time in his career. He has an 8.68 ERA during those three games and has given up 28 hits in 18 2/3 innings.
It's a far cry from the pitcher who entered Friday night 19-16 with a 3.25 ERA for his career.
The curious part of this stretch is that his velocity is a strong as ever. He averaged about 96 mph with his fastball Friday and hit a high of 98. His slider is also snapping enough to cause five strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings, so injury is not a concern and that just makes things all the more vexing.
"Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of answers," Cole said, repeating a phrase he used three times during a two-minute interview. "I think the overall goal this year was to pound the zone. It’s just getting hit around the park."
Cole was in and out of trouble throughout his stint Friday night, facing bases-loaded situations in the second and third innings, but gave up only one run as he escaped. But immediately after UCLA touched Oregon State ace Sam Gaviglio for three runs to take a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth, the Beavers got to Cole with a six-run fifth.
"He was walking a tightrope a little bit the first couple of innings and they finally knocked him off in the fifth," UCLA coach John Savage said.
Savage said he could sense Cole's mounting frustration which only served to exasperate the problem.
"You can’t pitch frustrated," Savage said. "When you pitch frustrated, you don’t make pitches as you can."
As far as the bigger concern of Cole's three-game losing streak, Savage said the key would be to decipher exactly why he's not able to finish off batters the way he had earlier in the season. Cole, after all, was 4-2 with a 1.74 ERA in eight starts before the last three games.
"It’s like a good hitter being in a slump," Savage said. "He’s not putting guys away. He gets ahead, he gets two strikes and he makes a mistake. When you’re going bad, it seems like every mistake he pays dearly for and that’s what he’s doing right now."
And as the poor performances have mounted, Savage said, Cole is beginning to feel a little of the pressure of being the No. 1 starter and a projected top-three draft pick.
"He just needs to be himself," Savage said. "When he’s himself and he’s competitive, we have the right guy going on Friday."
Catcher Steve Rodriguez said he noticed a little of that frustration happening during the fifth inning Friday night. Cole gave up consecutive doubles, a walk and a bases-clearing triple to start the inning. He then got a pop out, but then gave up consecutive singles and Savage pulled him.
"When he gets frustrated he tries to overdo things," Rodriguez said. "And guys are seeing him well right now. He’s just going through a little phase. He’ll get out of it."
The fifth-inning barrage of runs came as a bit of a blow to the Bruins, who rode Cole's dominance early this season when the bats were cold. Most expected a 5-1 lead to be safe in Cole's hands.
"It stunned our team a little bit," Savage said. "It hasn’t happened to us very often, but it was a momentum swing pretty quickly. You put up a three in the bottom of the fourth and they put up a six in the fifth, you don’t have that mojo very long."
The question is whether or not Cole can get his mojo back in time to help the Bruins make a late-season surge and get back in the Pac-10 title race.
Perhaps a new hat is all he needs.
4dChantel Jennings and Kevin Gemmell