FULLERTON, Calif. — In baseball, everything is counted. Numbers are everything – especially to pitchers.
UCLA pitcher Adam Plutko was doing some counting of his own Friday. Plutko, the Bruins’ ace for the past two seasons, counted the number of teammates selected in the MLB Draft. He counted how many times he refreshed Twitter in one minute – six – and he counted the number of phone calls he received from Major League Baseball organizations.
“I thought it was going to happen,” Plutko said. “I sat there waiting for it to happen.”
Plutko was not selected in the first 10 rounds, instead going in the 11th round to the Cleveland Indians. It was a shock to anyone familiar with the Bruin program.
“For a three-time all-conference pitcher to sit there and not get drafted, to say the least, it was difficult,” said UCLA head coach John Savage. “It was very emotional for me, very emotional for him, for our team. He’s been our leader for the last two years.
“He’s had one of the best careers in the history of the school.”
Plutko has been more than solid for UCLA for three seasons. A reliable Friday night ace, the right-hander out of Glendora rewrote the record books for UCLA. Plutko and Alex Sanchez both hold the title of the winningest pitcher in program history with 27 wins.
This season, Plutko went 8-3 with a 2.51 ERA. The recipient of some tough luck losses during light offensive nights, he makes no excuses, simply saying: “I wasn’t good enough this year to go where I wanted to go.”
In the postseason, solid doesn’t even begin to describe the righty. At 5-0, he’s never lost a postseason decision and he owns the most postseason wins in UCLA history. Friday afternoon, he didn’t receive a postseason decision for the first time in his career.
Plutko had every reason to melt down during his start in the first game of the Fullerton Super Regional. But facing No. 3 Cal State Fullerton, he passionately pitched the game of his career, giving up just a single earned run on six scattered hits, walking one and striking out two, further confounding the issue of the draft.
“You don’t know how he’s going to respond,” Savage said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I thought he was going to be Adam and it was. But I can’t say I wasn’t concerned.”
“I was crying before the game,” Plutko said. “I just had to pull myself together and I knew once I got to the field, playing baseball was going to be the easier part of the day.”
A 6-foot-3, 192 pounds, Plutko has an ideal build for a starter but he isn’t an overpowering, high 90s arm. His stuff isn’t electric and it won’t blow any hitters away. But Plutko’s command is exceptional. He throws three pitches all for strikes and works the corners with an efficiency that isn’t always seen at the college level.
Savage will tell you that you can’t teach winning, and Plutko is a proven winner.
“Whoever drafts him is going to get a hell of a competitor and a very good pitcher,” Savage said.
As Plutko took the mound, he found something else to count. There is a sign adorning the outfield wall along the right-center gap at Goodwin Field that reads: “The Saarloos Family says Good Luck Titans; only 1,544 miles to Omaha.”
He suddenly remembered the simple reasons that he loves the game, loves his team and loves competing; the reasons that don’t have dollar signs attached.
“I must have looked at that sign 15 times,” Plutko said. “It was hard but when I needed to throw the game down mentally I’d just look at it and say, ‘We’re going to Omaha.’”
Plutko has proved that he can win on the biggest stage. He sees no reason for that to change at the next level.