S & P 500

Oregon’s No. 20 baseball brings Pac-12 main offense to UCLA for series with best pitching staff in conference

EUGENE — Oregon is taking its Pac-12 primary offense on the road to UCLA to face the best pitchers in the conference.

The No. 20 Ducks (18-7, 7-2 Pac-12) lead the Pac-12 in batting average, hits, homers and slugging percentage and are second in runs scored. The Bruins (16-8, 3-3) lead the conference in ERA (2.48), strikeouts (260) and have given up a league-low 11 homers.

Something will have to give when the teams meet for the first of a three-game series at Jackie Robinson Stadium starting at 6 p.m. tonight.

“We know they’re a good team,” second baseman Gavin Grant said. “They are still a powerhouse in the Pac. They still have a good pitching staff with their coaches. They do a good job with that. They get scrappy wins on the offensive end. It’s going to be a dogfight this weekend so we’ll be ready.

Grant leads UO with an average of .433 over nine conference games and is one of six Ducks to hit over .300 in the league. It shows how well Oregon hits and how balanced the lineup is when Tanner Smith and Josh Kasevich, arguably the team’s two best hitters other than Drew Cowley, who remains with a hand injury, have the lowest batting averages in conference so far. .

“I think offensively there’s a hitting mentality,” Oregon coach Mark Wasikowski said. “I think it’s a long list. I think there are guys who in the long run, you see it’s hard to get us out of 1-9. There are guys who can hit and kick the ball out of the 1-9 stadium. I think that makes your lineup difficult even with a guy like Drew Cowley, who is a huge out. Don’t get me wrong, when you lose your best hitter to injury for a long time, it’s never fun.

Cowley will be out for about another week.

Where Oregon should hope for better results is from its starting pitchers. RJ Gordon and Isaac Ayon will start tonight and tomorrow and each have ERAs above 5.70, and even higher in the short sample of three league starts each.

Wasikowski said Andrew Mosiello, who made a one-inning appearance Wednesday in his first action since March 5, will likely move to a bullpen role and Logan Mercado, whose 8.0 scoreless innings in conference are the most by a UO pitcher without a start, could be a candidate to start on Sunday.

But until the Ducks can prove better results on their starters’ mound, the pattern of success will remain the same.

“The same way we did before,” Wasikowski said. “It’s probably with a really good bullpen and being able to score more than the other team.”