UCLA's John Savage Discusses 2007 Baseball Season, Program's Future
June 26, 2007
UCLA baseball head coach John Savage helped lead the Bruins to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season and to the NCAA Super Regionals for the first time since 2000. UCLA finished its season with a 33-28 overall mark and a third-place Pac-10 finish (14-10 conference record). The 2007 Bruins turned around an 8-14 start by winning 12 of their first 14 Pac-10 games and five consecutive Pac-10 series.
Q: After two consecutive Regional appearances and a berth in the Super Regionals, what are your thoughts on the 2007 season and the program's future?
A: We like our team and the makeup of our team. We feel that our roster will be very talented for years to come. To go from where we were in 2005 to 2006 and then advance to the Super Regionals in 2007, I think that a lot of credit must go to the assistant coaches and, certainly, to the players.
Q: Prior to the 2007 season, you mentioned that the Bruins' success would hinge on being able to replace starters Dave Huff and Hector Ambriz from 2006. Give us your assessment on the pitching staff being able to fill these holes in the rotation.
A: We had so much adversity at the beginning of the season. We had so many injuries - I had never seen anything like it. With Blair Dunlap, Jeff Rapoport and Charles Brewer injured, and then the third base situation, we really overcame a lot. We knew that we had a very difficult schedule. We got through the first 22 games with an 8-14 record, and then we just took off. After that, we felt that we were the hottest team in the country and that we could play with anybody. With Jermaine Curtis coming back, we played very well through those first five weeks of our conference schedule. We were 12-2 in Pac-10 play, and it was just an exciting time where everything really came together. It was an impressive run by a bunch of young players. I haven't quite seen that type of run from that much youth in the Pac-10 in a long time.
Q: In his last four starts, freshman left-hander Gavin Brooks posted a 1.34 ERA and hurled three complete games, recording 28 strikeouts and a .167 opponent batting average in 33.2 innings. What do you see in Gavin's future at UCLA?
A: He's a legitimate number one starter. He had the best season of any freshman pitcher in the history of the school, when you look at strikeouts  and innings pitched [110.2] and you look at how many big games he performed in. At the end of the season, he was as good as any pitcher in the country. So, we feel that he is going to be a legitimate number one guy. We feel that he is going to establish the weekend for the next two years. And we know that we have something special in Gavin. The way he performed at the end of the year is just a glimpse into the future.
Q: Sophomore left-hander Tim Murphy did not pitch in a game until the first month of this season. Talk about Tim's emergence on the mound and what he brought to the team this season.
A: He really stepped up, and you can't say enough about the way he developed as a pitcher. He threw 76 innings and had nearly 100 strikeouts. The guy really battled, and he's one of the biggest competitors in our program. He performed well at Arizona State, pitching against the top offensive team in the country, and he had 14 strikeouts. He was something else during that stretch. Now, he has established himself as a front-runner to be in that weekend rotation. He's a legitimate pro prospect, as is Gavin Brooks. They're both left-handers who throw 90-94 [mph], and we have an exciting future with those pitchers. He's performed beyond our expectations and emerged as a legitimate pitcher.
Q: In the Long Beach Regional, Tyson Brummett came one out shy of a complete game. Over the next two days, Gavin Brooks and Tim Murphy each hurled a complete game. What did these performances mean to the team?
A: I think that it showed that we had legitimate starting pitching. You're only as good as your starting pitcher. We started off with Tyson Brummett's performance, and then Gavin got off to a rocky start before throwing eight shutouts innings. Murphy gave up three runs in the first inning. But they just persevered and showed the team that if you're mentally tough and keep competing, good things will happen. I think that Murphy's and Brooks' performances were really a perfect case and point of us needing big starts from guys and them stepping up in some big games. It was fun to watch for our team and, certainly, for all our fans.
Q: Nearly two years ago, you brought in a loaded freshman class that featured Brandon Crawford, Ryan Babineau, Cody Decker, Jermaine Curtis, Tim Murphy and Jason Novak, among others. What has this recruiting class and core group of rising-juniors meant to this baseball program?
A: It's been everything to the program. It's all about players. Players create environments and attitudes. They have done great in the classroom and great on the field. They know where we want to go. They know that we came up short this season. But certainly our goal is to get to Omaha next season and perform there. They have been thrown into the fire from day one, and they've handled themselves very well both on and off the field. They have represented the UCLA baseball program as well as anybody could ever expect.
Q: Your last two recruiting classes have been ranked No. 5 and No. 13 in the nation, respectively, by Baseball America. What do you like about your incoming class next fall?
A: The freshman pitching in this class is as good as there will be at any school. Rob Rasmussen and Dan Klein are two of the best freshman arms in southern California and certainly on the West Coast. With Matt Grace, Mitchell Beacom and Tim Schlatter, we really like our pitching that is coming in. Erik Goeddel is one of the top All-Americans coming in as a freshman. We really like our pitching to add to our depth that we have on-campus now. We like our position players with Brett Krill, Niko Gallego and Brandon Lodge. It's also a very good position player class, so people should also be very excited not only with our junior and sophomore classes, but also with these guys coming in.
Q: What were among the most pleasant surprises from this year's group of 13 incomers?
A: I would think the way that Gabe Cohen performed - he hit for a high average, he hit doubles and home runs, he drove in runs and he played better defensively than we anticipated. Garett Claypool would also be a guy who played at a high level. He grew up faster than we anticipated. He performed on Tuesdays as well as can be expected of any freshman. And then the health of Gavin Brooks was a pleasant surprise. We knew that he was legitimate, but we just didn't know when he was going to be legitimate. It came a lot faster than we thought.
Q: Only one other college team in the nation played more games this season against the eight teams that advanced to the College World Series. In fact, the Bruins played 29 regular-season games against 11 teams that played in the NCAA Tournament. How does this speak to your strength of schedule?
A: Everybody knows that our schedules have been some of the toughest in the country the last couple of years, and we want to maintain that philosophy. We want to play the best people outside of conference, and we feel that the Pac-10 Conference is the best baseball conference in the country from top to bottom. It's pretty clear that when you see Oregon State go 10-14 in league play and then up in Omaha and win the College World Series, that says a lot about the league. We haven't dodged anybody, we want to play the toughest teams outside of league to prepare us for conference and postseason play.
Q: The NCAA has pushed the back the start date of every team's schedule next season to February 22. What other changes or additions can you tell us in a quick 'sneak peek' of next year's schedule?
A: We're going to open up against Oklahoma, a legitimate Big-12 Conference team. They'll be visiting UCLA on that first weekend for three games. We're going to play three games against Long Beach State for three games on a weekend next year. That will kind of bring back that Regionals atmosphere. We're going to play USC in somewhat of a tournament setting, where one of the games will be at a major league complex in Compton. We're very excited about our schedule. We know that it's going to be very difficult again. Our players are chomping at the bit and looking to get back out there and achieve some of our goals.
Q: In your three years as head coach, you've made significant upgrades at Jackie Robinson Stadium. In 2006, over 1,000 chairback seats were installed. Last winter, a state-of-the-art net was hung behind home plate. What other plans do you have for Jackie Robinson Stadium in the near future?
A: We're putting down a brand-new major-league surface in August. That will be completed by November. It will be one of the nicest surfaces in the country, and we feel that it will be one of the best surfaces on the West Coast. We need to continue improving our facility. We need to have the capabilities to host a Regional and a Super Regional so that we can have a home-field advantage that a lot of West Coast teams are having right now. We feel that we have created a positive atmosphere at the ballpark for fans and young kids. It was a fun environment this year for our fans and our team. There were a lot of exciting games, and we want to continue improving our facility with additional seating, new dugouts, a new hitting facility and a new clubhouse. This offseason, the main goal is to get that new surface down.