OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — UCLA coach John Savage says it’s about time for Adam Plutko and former Oakdale High star Nick Vander Tuig to get their due.
The Bruins’ formidable 1-2 pitching combo doesn’t receive the same fanfare Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer did a couple of years ago. Few do. After all, Cole was taken No. 1 overall in the major league draft and Bauer No. 3.
The star of the UCLA staff is side-arming reliever David Berg, who was Pac-12 pitcher of the year, first-team All-America and Stopper of the Year.
But Plutko and Vander Tuig, who aren’t even third-team All-Americans, have been hard to miss at the College World Series. Each allowed one run on four hits in seven innings in 2-1 victories, with Plutko doing it against LSU on Sunday and Vander Tuig against North Carolina State on Tuesday.
“I really think they’re two of the most underrated players in the country, and I think they’re showing that right now,” UCLA coach John Savage said.
Plutko (9-3, 2.29 ERA) is in his third year as a starter and in his second as the Bruins’ No. 1. Vander Tuig (13-4, 2.31), who graduated from Oakdale in 2010, was the Bruins’ closer as a freshman and has been starting for two years.
Plutko is more consistent than overwhelming with a fastball in the high 80s to low 90s. He was disappointed when he slipped to the 11th round in the recent draft, where he was selected by the Cleveland Indians.
Vander Tuig came back from Tommy John surgery in high school to become the San Francisco Giants’ sixth-round pick. He touches the low 90s with his fastball and possesses a wicked changeup.
“I really kind of look at them almost like professionals right now in the sense that their work habits in between starts, their conditioning, their throwing programs, their bullpens — they’re well-schooled. We would never be in the position we are without those two guys.”
UCLA is in control of its bracket. The Bruins need a win over North Carolina or North Carolina State on Friday night to reach next week’s finals. If they lose Friday, they would play a rematch Saturday, with the winner advancing to the finals. Savage has not announced his pitching plans, though Grant Watson (8-3) is next in line.
Vander Tuig said Cole and Bauer were great role models for him and Plutko. Cole is 1-2 in three starts with the Indians, and Cole is 2-0 after making his major league debut for Pittsburgh on June 11.
“Going back to my freshman year, seeing Gerrit and Trevor kind of having that Friday-Saturday rotation there. You see how they kind of act through the year, and they were good teammates with each other,” Vander Tuig said. “Adam and I just saw that and we kind of built off each other.”
SIGHT-UNSEEN SECOND BASEMAN: Oregon State coach Pat Casey took a leap of faith last year and signed an infielder he had never seen play and who was on crutches when he met him.
That infielder, Andy Peterson, started his 64th straight game at second base when Oregon State played Indiana on Wednesday night.
Casey said one of his friends in coaching told him that he should recruit Peterson out of Santa Ana Junior College even though Peterson was out because of a stress fracture in his left leg. In 29 games last season at the California school, Peterson batted .426 with 10 doubles and 25 RBIs.
Casey said he followed a gut feeling and offered him a scholarship. Good thing he did. Peterson is batting a team-best .335, leads the Beavers with 13 stolen bases, and was 4 for 8 in his first two CWS games.
MOUNTAIN ON THE MOUND: Indiana starting pitcher Aaron Slegers, at 6-foot-10, is the tallest man to take the mound in the College World Series since the 6-9 Kyle Bakker pitched for Georgia Tech in the 2002 CWS in his hometown.
Longtime observers couldn’t remember anyone taller than Slegers, the Minnesota Twins’ fifth-round draft pick, ever competing in the CWS.
Slegers isn’t the tallest pitcher in college baseball this season. That distinction goes to Frank Szczepanik, a 7-2 relief pitcher for Division II Barry College.