For most college baseball pitchers, Luke Heimlich’s outing on a pleasant Thursday afternoon would’ve been a career performance.
But for Heimlich, it was just another day at the office.
The senior left-hander struck out 10 in 7⅔ scoreless innings, improving to 7-0 in his last seven starts as the second-ranked Beavers blanked No. 18 UCLA 2-0 before a Goss Stadium crowd of 3,567.
OSU (43-9-1, 19-8-1) will try to clinch the three-game Pac-12 series, and pad its NCAA tournament national seed resume, at 4:05 p.m. Friday.
“It’s been a nice, consistent pattern lately,” sophomore catcher Adley Rutschman said of Heimlich. “Stuff was lights out … and it just seemed like guys were a little late on his fastball, and he was able to locate that slider.
“He’s a great competitor as well, and the results kind of showed how good his process was today.”
In his last seven starts, Heimlich (14-1) has allowed just 10 earned runs on 31 hits with 82 strikeouts and seven walks. He has won Pac-12 pitcher of the week three times during the stretch.
Heimlich, who leads the country in wins, took a no-hitter into the fifth inning but dodged multiple UCLA (35-18, 18-10) punches late in the series opener. He threw 125 pitches, two shy of a career-high.
The Bruins stranded a pair of runners in the fifth and sixth as Heimlich’s pitch count climbed near the century mark. He gave up a leadoff single in the seventh and then issued a two-out walk to bring up reigning Pac-12 player of the week Jeremy Ydens, who promptly struck out on three pitches.
Heimlich talked his way into going back out for the eighth and was finally pulled after Michael Toglia ripped a two-out double. The 2017 Pac-12 pitcher of the year allowed just five hits while walking two and plunking one.
After the seventh, coach Pat Casey and pitching coach Nate Yeskie asked Heimlich if he had anything left in the tank.
“He goes ‘I’ve got one more good (inning) in me,’” Casey said. “You’ve got to kind of trust him a bit. And we wanted to go get him before the last hitter and we didn’t, so that’s on us. But he pitched his tail off.”
Brandon Eisert recorded the final four outs for his fifth save of the year.
Heimlich has struck out 139 batters this spring, a new OSU single-season record. He struck out the side in the first to pass Jonah Nickerson, who fanned 131 during the 2006 season.
After a fast start Thursday, Heimlich began to struggle with the location of his off-speed pitches — particularly the curveball. He struck out just one batter after the fourth inning but kept UCLA off the board.
“I wasn’t able to get ahead,” Heimlich said. “They were aggressive with the fastball and usually I am able to pitch backwards and kind of counter that, but I wasn’t able to land stuff early in the count. So then they were just sitting fastballs, and I had to throw them.”
UCLA has now gone 44 innings without scoring a run at Goss Stadium dating back to 2014.
The Bruins were shut out on three consecutive days to end the 2016 season. Heimlich and Bryce Fehmel, who will start Friday’s game, whirled two of them.
When asked if he remembered what happened the last time he pitched against UCLA at Goss Stadium, Heimlich paused for a second and then said “I threw on Sunday, and I went complete game, shutout. Only eight strikeouts.”
He also recalled Fehmel’s outing and the Travis Eckert/Max Engelbrekt combined shutout to near perfection.
Tyler Malone finished 2 for 3 Thursday to lead the Beavers, who matched a season-low with just five hits. OSU also had five hits in last week’s loss at USC.
UCLA ace Jake Bird (7-4), who entered with the Pac-12’s lowest earned-run average at 1.97, threw all eight innings and struck out two with two walks.
“He locates his stuff and he’s got a lot of sink and movement in all the pitches he throws,” Rutschman said. “That’s why he has the lowest ERA in the Pac. I thought we squared up some balls good today and had some unlucky breaks, but he did a good job pitching.”
OSU did get to Bird in the second inning.
Rutschman led off with a five-pitch walk and Trevor Larnach followed with a bullet up the middle. Malone brought home Rutschman with a solid single to right and Larnach then scored on a Jack Anderson groundout, putting the Beavers up 2-0.
It was all the runs Heimlich and Eisert would need.
“(Heimlich) gave us a huge start, and obviously their guy was outstanding as well,” Casey said. “A pitchers’ duel, and Luke came out on top.”