Armed and dangerous
UCLA's Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer are a big reason the Bruins are 10-0
They are an odd couple, the quiet mechanical engineering major and the wild child who had the nerve to spurn the New York Yankees.
But through the early weeks of what could be a dominant season for UCLA baseball, the oddest things around Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole have been opposing hitters' swings.
They're off-kilter. They're uncomfortable. They're often absolutely hapless.
"I have no idea how you'd attack Trevor," Cole said. "It's like, 'What do you do?' If you sit fastball, he'll throw off-speed stuff all day. If you look off-speed, he'll blow it by you."
It's tough to say which sophomore pitcher makes things more uncomfortable for hitters. It's a lot easier to tell who's who.
"I'm definitely serious more often than he is. He's always joking around, being loud, doing funny stuff," Bauer said. "I'm more quiet and to myself. I like to observe stuff. He's usually the one I'm observing."
If you want to draw Bauer out, you talk about pitching in mechanical detail. He approaches it as if it were one of the hard science classes he takes at UCLA. There are 12-year major league veterans with less awareness of what they're doing. Bauer just turned 19 in January.
"I look at small things, like if you want a pitch to break this way how you rotate it on its axis to get it do that," Bauer said. "I've always been big into physics and applying it to my delivery."
The only physics Cole needs to know is that, if you throw the ball 98 mph, it's borderline impossible to hit, at least for college kids. Bauer's best pitch is his changeup, a diving pitch complemented by a low-90s fastball. Cole's weapon of choice is pure heat, though he has learned to cut and sink his fastball this season and to vary its speed. That's almost unfair.
MAKING A PITCH
Pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer are two reasons why the UCLA baseball team is off to an 10-0 start.
The Yankees never even got to make an offer after taking him in the first round out of Orange Lutheran High, because he and his father believed college could help him grow up. Scouts loved his ability, but some questioned his mental readiness.
Cole said he's not looking back.
"I'm pretty stoked to be here," he said.
Cole, three months older than Bauer, is the early favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in June 2011. Even on a strictly financial level, his decision appears sound.
Bauer also has the look of a first-round pick. If they both are selected that highly, it will be the first time UCLA has had two first-rounders since Troy Glaus and Jim Parque were drafted in 1997.
Cole said he chatted with Stephen Strasburg each time the Bruins played San Diego State last year. He traveled to UC Irvine for Strasburg's postseason outing against Virginia. Cole's advisor, Scott Boras, represented Strasburg when he signed his $15.1 million contract with the Washington Nationals last summer.
Strasburg's example could come in handy next season, when Cole gets back under scouts' microscopes. "[Strasburg] is a pretty cool cat and a pretty humble guy," Cole said. "On that mound is when you really see the competitor come out in him. You just kind of learn from different situations. I kind of had that my senior year in high school, so I'm not too worried about it."
The fast starts by Bauer and Cole this year -- Cole is 3-0 with a 2.50 ERA, Bauer is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA and they have combined for a ridiculous 49 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings -- has helped the Bruins get off to a 10-0 start. UCLA hasn't started this well since anyone bothered keeping records in the mid-1950s. The Bruins have been to the College World Series once since 1997, but coach John Savage's stockpiling of talented arms appears to be paying off. No. 3 starter Rob Rasmussen, a lefty, has 23 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings and figures to be picked in the first few rounds this June.
"They haven't gotten to Omaha. They have that thing hanging over their heads," Savage said. "There's a lot of incentive for a new group of players."
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Cole already has accepted an invitation from Team USA to compete this summer. Bauer hasn't decided whether he'll pitch for the national team yet. Both young players were on the squad last year. By the time both pitchers show back up at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Field next February, the circus will have set up its tents around them. Dozens of scouts figure to follow the Bruins around all season, mostly because of Cole. There aren't a lot of pitchers capable of throwing 97 mph in the seventh inning, as Cole is.
"Next year will be something with those two guys. A lot of eyes on them," Savage said. "I see both of those guys bearing up pretty well under the microscope."