A.J. Puckett, Pepperdine

A.J. Puckett has allowed an earned run in a month and a half. (Shotgun Spratling)

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A.J. Puckett, Grant Dyer Twirl SoCal Gems

Analysis

LOS ANGELES — Scouts are always searching for hidden gems. The purveying thought is that it doesn’t matter where the talent is at, scouts will follow to find it.
Pepperdine logoPortland logo

That’s why a seemingly blasé West Coast Conference matchup between a team floating around the .500 mark and a team 1-11 in conference can draw a similar contingent — both large — of scouting professionals as a matchup between typical Pac-12 powers.

Pepperdine blanked Portland, 4-0, at Eddy D. Field in Malibu, Calif. while UCLA bested Oregon, 4-2, at Jackie Robinson Stadium. But the scouts came away buzzing after watching Pepperdine righthander A.J. Puckett and UCLA’s Grant Dyer both twirl gems to lead their teams to victory.
Oregon logo

Puckett was dominant in his first complete game effort this season. The Waves ace continued his streak of not allowing an earned run to 54.2 innings with a seven-hit shutout. He relentlessly attacked the strike zone, needing just 103 pitches to set a new career high with 12 strikeouts.

His final strikeout in the ninth inning came on a 90-mph fastball on the inside corner as his velocity barely dipped from the 90-91 he was in the middle innings and 91-92 in the first. His 79-81 changeup again had good depth and kept an aggressive Portland lineup off balanced. Puckett’s curveball was firmer and sharper at 76 mph and a true strikeout pitch, but he didn’t over rely on it as he might have in the past.

Between Puckett’s hammer and Dyer’s knee-buckling 79-81-mph curveball, it wouldn’t have been a good day for Pedro Cerrano to be in Southern California. Through his first two years, Dyer was in the conversation for top curveballs in the country with the sharp break and his ability to locate it, but this season, he had struggled with his consistency since coming back from an oblique injury. He had no such issues against Oregon.

Grant Dyer, UCLAUCLA got a great outing from Grant Dyer. (Shotgun Spratling)

Dyer produced one of his top outings of the season against the Ducks’ limp offense. He gave up just two hits and two walks in seven scoreless innings, leaving the game with a 3-0 lead. He pitched at 89-92, which UCLA head coach John Savage said is still a tick lower than what he had been at prior to the injury. But it was a good bounceback for Dyer after he couldn’t hold an early 6-1 lead against Washington last weekend.

The Breakdown

Game Changer

Aaron Barnett, PepperdineThe Pepperdine defense keeps their ace’s scoreless streak alive. (Shotgun Spratling)

Even though he gave up seven hits, Puckett only faced one over the minimum. He picked off a pair of runners and used his defense effectively, inducing three ground ball double plays.

But the defense saved Puckett’s scoreless streak in the sixth inning. Brady Kerr led off the inning with a double past a diving Brad Anderson at first base. Right fielder Brandon Caruso nearly hosed Kerr at second base, but his throw, which beat Kerr, couldn’t be handled on a short hop. Portland tried to sacrifice Kerr over, but a pair of foul balls eventually led to a strikeout.

Puckett got ahead of Grant Taylor but left a 1-2 pitch up in the zone and Taylor drove it right back up the box. Puckett dodged the liner and then rushed to back up home plate where he had a front row seat for the closest his scoreless streak has come to being ended.

With Kerr being waved around third, Matt Gelalich came up firing, but his throw was low and offline. Anderson cut off the throw and, unlike many first basemen in a similar situation, didn’t rush the play, spinning and tossing a dart to catcher Aaron Barnett. Barnett was already blocking the plate, forcing Kerr to widen his slide path and Barnett was able to easily tag him out.


For UCLA, there have been two consistent bats in the middle of the lineup and Friday was no different. Eric Filia reached twice, but it was Luke Persico’s turn to have the big game. He knocked four hits, driving in one run and having another potential RBI thrown out at the plate.

Luke Persico, UCLALuke Persico had four hits for the Bruins. (Shotgun Spratling)

But the game changer for the Bruins was the Daniel connection. Catcher Daniel Rosica helped control Oregon’s small ball game by throwing out his third runner in the series and reached base three times with a hit, walk and hit by pitch. He stole a bag and scored two runs out of nine-hole, turning the lineup over for Daniel Amaral. The freshman outfielder was 0-for-1 with an RBI, but saw a number of pitches in the leadoff spot, walking twice and also laying down a sacrifice bunt.

The Bruins have to get contributions beyond the heart of the lineup and getting contributions from the Daniels, who both entered the fall without a starting spot, is a great start.

Top Performances

Portland:

  • Jason Rose: 2-for-3
    Cole Doherty: 1.1 IP, 0 H, K

Pepperdine:

  • A.J. Puckett: CG, 9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 K; Win
    Aaron Barnett: 2-for-3, R, 2B

Oregon:

  • A.J. Balta: 1-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI

UCLA:

  • Grant Dyer: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K; Win
    Luke Persico: 4-for-5, RBI, SB
    Daniel Rosica: 1-for-2, 2 R, BB, HBP, SB

In Their Words

Pepperdine RHP A J  Puckett talks about his seven-hit shutout of Portland and how he has developed into a well-rounded pitcher in his three years at Pepperdine:

UCLA head coach John Savage talks about the Bruins’ 4-2 win over Oregon to take the series from a team coming off a sweep of USC last weekend.

Savage also discusses about the different element Daniel Amaral brings against lefties and the performance of Grant Dyer (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R):

Oregon head coach George Horton talks about the disappointing series loss at UCLA after the Ducks’ 4-2 loss on Friday night.

Horton also discusses the performances of the game’s starting pitchers, Cole Irvin and Grant Dyer, and what the Ducks have to do to turn things around:

Bottom Line

– There is not a hotter pitcher in the country than A.J. Puckett. He hasn’t allowed a run in more than a month. He hasn’t allowed an earned run since March 4.

In his last seven starts, Puckett’s stat line is Jake Arrieta-esque…except that Arrieta has given up a couple of runs during his current ridiculous run in the MLB. Arrieta is 15-0, 0.53 in last 16 starts. Puckett is 6-0, 0.00 in his last seven starts: 51.2 IP, 32 H, 2 UER, 12 BB, 58 K.

– Portland just has not been the same since losing No. 3 hitter Caleb Whalen to a broken bone in his hand after getting hit on the thumb. The Pilots are 1-11 since he left the lineup. Head coach Geoff Loomis is hopeful Whalen could be back next weekend.


– The Pac-12 is a hot mess right now, which means anyone can jump right back into the mix with a strong weekend. After losing four straight weekends, UCLA will shoot for a sweep on Saturday that could do just that for the Bruins. They need Dyer to become the reliable rotation fixture they expected and hitters not named Filia/Persico to step up. If they do, don’t be surprised when UCLA is battling for the conference crown once again.

– George Horton thinks the Ducks can battle for the Pac-12 title as well and there’s no reason they can’t. But Matt Krook and Cole Irvin can’t lay back-to-back duds. Irvin minimized damage effectively, but six hits and six free passes (three walks and three hit batsmen) in 5.2 innings won’t cut it with an offensively-challenged lineup.

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