June 25, 2013 11:02:51 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
OMAHA, Neb. -- UCLA pitcher Adam Plutko knew at first glance TD Ameritrade Park was made for him.
The park's spacious outfields and the uncanny ability of its winds to limit balls from going over the wall appear to be an ideal formula for the Upland, Calif., native to have success every time he steps to the mound on college baseball's biggest stage.
Plutko continued that run Monday night, allowing four hits and one run in a 3-1 victory against Mississippi State University in game one of the College World Series Finals.
The junior, who was selected in the 11th round by the Cleveland Indians in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft earlier this month, improved to 3-0 in Omaha after a 93-pitch outing carried him into the seventh inning. In addition to beating LSU 2-1 in UCLA's first game at the College World Series this year, Plutko defeated Stony Brook University 9-1 on June 15, 2012.
Plutko's style is unique in the sense he attacks hitters up in the strike zone, which makes most pitching coaches cringe unless you have the movement and sink Plutko possesses. Plutko counters his 91-92 mph fastball with a devastating sinker and a professional looking changeup that gives hitters a split second of indecision and enables him to avoid barrel contact.
"I felt good early because I really felt like I'd thrown a good bullpen the day before," Plutko said. "I can't describe it other than to say I was just feeling confident."
Line drive shots hit by MSU's Hunter Renfroe, Wes Rea, and Trey Porter all softly fell into the gloves of outfielders and allowed the Bruins to escape trouble in several innings. The line drive right fielder Eric Filia snared off the bat of Porter with the bases loaded in the fourth inning really irritated MSU coach John Cohen and his coaching staff.
"A guy can hit three line drives in a row right at somebody or it can go 1-for-4 with three punchouts and hit a ball at the end of the bat and it can fall for you," Cohen said. "Who was the more productive hitter that night? That's just how it works in our sport sometimes."
It also helps to have a pitcher like Plutko who can shut an offense down. He has an ERA of 1.35 in his three starts at the College World Series.
"Because of that confidence, I decided the first time through the lineup I really wanted to attack them and see what they were all about as an offense," Plutko said. "I found out they weren't going to hit it out of this park, so I went back to my normal plan."
Against LSU, Plutko overshadowed right-hander Aaron Nola by scattering four hits in seven innings. On Monday, he needed only two strikeouts to hold a hot MSU lineup in check.
"We know our pitching is phenomenal, and we're really big on just really passing the baton to them whenever we can," UCLA outfielder Eric Filia said. "I think we really helped Plutko with momentum behind him and getting that 1-0 lead."
Even though it hit several balls hard, MSU made 13 flyball outs (11 against Plutko) and didn't adjust to put Plutko in enough difficult situations.
"It's like (MSU starting pitcher Kendall) Graveman going out for us and getting 19 groundball outs with as many flyballs and putting them where he wants us to," MSU sophomore first baseman Wes Rea said. "We just didn't adjust quick enough to that. He just executed his game plan and we weren't able to adjust back."
Against LSU and MSU, Plutko capitalized on the hitters' eagerness in situations and forced early contact. The Bruins ace, who has gone less than five innings in one start once this season, was most effective against the Bulldogs' top three hitters -- Renfroe, Rea, and lead-off hitter Adam Frazier. Those three went 0-for-10 with five fly outs and two strikeouts (both by Renfroe).
"He didn't have anything overpowering, (and) he was leaving it up and we just tried to do too much with it," MSU junior second baseman Brett Pirtle said. "We just didn't do what we always do, and that's just spread the ball up and hit line drives and hard groundballs. We gave them easy outs, and that's not really who we are."
Plutko's outing likely was his last appearance of the season and, possibly, his final start in college baseball. He did it in style, lowering his ERA to a career low 2.25 in his 15th quality start.
"(Mississippi State) started getting to me later in the game because they grind out at-bats just like we do," Plutko said. "But with guys like (Renfroe) we wanted to pound the strike zone. We wanted to make him hit our pitches, and we just kept doing that and kept doing that. Ultimately it paid off."