By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
Rob Rasmussen has had an education.
Oh, he knew it was possible he would be able to achieve academic excellence by attending UCLA. But his real education has come on the pitcher’s mound.
The left-handed junior from Pasadena Poly has become the Sunday pitcher for the Bruins. That means he gets the final say in the Bruins’ three-game series.
He was perfect in the role until Sunday when 17th-ranked Arizona State got to him in the fourth inning of the Wildcats’ 6-4 victory.
Rasmussen is 6-1 in his Sunday starts with a 2.85 ERA. The Bruins are ranked fifth in the nation.
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“It’s about getting ahead in the count,” he said. “It’s about the difference between being ahead 0-1 and being down 1-0.”
Actually, it’s about the fastball, Bruins coach John Savage said.
“He’s had control of it and that is the difference,” Savage said.
Rasmussen throws his fastball between 90 and 93 mph. He has been consistent in finding the inside corner, and that has allowed him to throw a slider, changeup and curve just as effectively.
“With the way I’ve been throwing my fastball,” the 21-year-old said, “the more I can go to the slider or curve for strikeouts. That’s because they cannot wait on the fastball.”
He has struck out 72 batters this season in
53 2/3 innings and has given up 45 hits and 21 walks. Teams have a .224 batting average against him.
“Having command of my pitching has given me confidence,” he said. “But then our bats have really stepped up for us.”
The Bruins began the season with 22 consecutive victories. The streak ended with an 8-4 loss to Stanford.
Rasmussen then gave the Bruins a series-closing 7-5 victory. He gave up four hits in six innings.
“He has a role that is important to us,” Savage said. “When you play a three-game series in conference, the series comes down to the Sunday pitcher. We were 0-1 against Stanford and he got us the win.
“We were 1-1 against Oregon State and he got us the win. We were 0-2 against Oregon and he kept us from being swept. You need to have a strong Sunday pitcher. It’s a huge role and he has done the job this year.”
Savage has given him the mental edge to be pitching at this level, the Arcadia resident said.
“His expertise has made me understand how important the numbers are,” Rasmussen said. “I’ve learned what I need to do in situations.”
Rasmussen admitted that was not the case when he pitched for Pasadena Poly.
He certainly knew he was getting an education that could take him to any college. But as much of an academic education he could get, it was not the same on the baseball field.
Rasmussen went 12-0 with a 0.33 ERA in 2007 and helped the Panthers to a 24-2 record and CIF-Southern Section semifinal playoff berth, but it was in one of the CIF’s smaller divisions.
He told several Major League Baseball teams he definitely was going to UCLA. He was selected in the 27th round by the Dodgers.
“There was no way I was ready for the pros,” he said. “I’m so happy I went to UCLA.”
But going from Poly, with a student population of no more than 850 students for all 13 grades, to a school with more than 26,000 students is a huge step.
Going from a baseball program that regularly faced Flintridge Prep and Rio Hondo Prep to a program that regularly plays top-ranked Arizona State and five other Pac-10 teams currently ranked in the nation’s Top 25 also is a huge step.
“It was a big adjustment, but fortunately I have 30 to 35 people who immediately accepted me as their best friend,” Rasmussen said of his teammates. “Working out with them and studying with them helped in my transition.”
Fortunately, he had the Poly education to help guide him through those early, difficult years. In his college debut, he broke his left toe when it was struck by a line drive in the third inning. He was out for 10 weeks before returning. He pitched only
17 2/3 innings that season.
He spent most of last year in the bullpen but did make six starts. He was 4-2 with a 6.45 ERA.
However, all that baseball education came to fruition at last summer’s Cape Cod League, Savage said.
“You could see how comfortable he was out there,” Savage said.
He went 4-0 in the league with a 1.80 ERA and earned the starting role in the league’s all-star game.
“I feel more polished and I understand the mental and physical side of the game better,” he said.
So if a major league team selects him in the draft this season? Rasmussen said he has only two more quarters remaining to complete his economics degree, so if the offer is right …
But first, there is the issue of the Pac-10 title and a potential berth in one of the NCAA Division I regionals.