Zach Torra is making this pitching thing look a little too easy.
UCSB’s junior left-hander turned in another masterpiece on Saturday, one that consisted of 12 strikeouts in seven innings in the Gauchos’ 10-0 victory over the University of Illinois-Chicago at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
Torra allowed only two hits, walked two and threw only 92 pitches to get UCSB (8-2) another victory. His performance followed a 13-strikeout effort last weekend against Abilene Christian, when he earned his first win as a Gaucho. Torra, a former standout at Santa Ynez High and Cuesta College, used a high-80s to low-90s fastball and excellent offspeed pitches to improve to 2-0 on Saturday.
“He’s been good, he’s been solid all year,” UCSB coach Andrew Checketts said. “He was a little loose with his command early today, but once we got the lead, he was a little more aggressive. He had a good fastball today and the breaking ball got better as the game went along.
“Early on, it was just Ok, but it got better. He also flipped a couple of changeups in there which is something he’s been working on, so that was good. He was solid and in command and in attack mode most of the game.”
Torra made his Gaucho debut on Feb. 15 at Sacramento State. He struck out seven in six innings and didn’t allow a run. He has been everything and more Checketts could have ever hoped for as his Saturday starter
“We knew he was good from what he did at Cuesta,” UCSB’s ninth-year coach said. “His stuff has gotten better since he arrived here. He’s gotten stronger and older and his velocity has been better since we saw him at Cuesta.
“He was kind of 86-to-89 (with his fastball), and today he was 89-to-92. He threw a lot of 90s and the breaking ball was sharp. He’s got two breaking balls (a slider and a curveball).”
The Gauchos (8-2) made it back-to-back wins over the Flames after Friday night’s 3-2, 10-inning victory.
Torra said his fastball command was what opened things up for him on Saturday.
“My overall fastball command was good,” he said. “I think after the second inning when our offense scored six runs, it was a little bit easier just to kind of attack the hitters and just go right after them. It ended up working out.
“I’m just enjoying it. I’m just taking it one start at a time. That was kind of my goal going into this year, and it’s worked out so far.”
As for the offense, the Gauchos scored six in the second, one in the third, and got a mammoth three-run homer from Marcos Castanon in the fourth.
Illinois-Chicago starter Bobby Nicholson struggled in the early going and never made it out of the second inning. After retiring the side without a run scored in the first, Nicholson completely lost command of all of his pitches in the second, which enabled UCSB to take a 6-0 lead. Nicholson ended up allowing five runs on no hits with five walks in 1.1 innings of work.
“It looked like he lost command,” Checketts said. “I don’t know if it was a blister (on his finger) or if something was going on that affected him a little bit … but we did a good job of not chasing (pitches out of the strike zone).
“We got a couple of good swings off when they brought the new guy (Cristian Lopez) in. The guys were better, offensively, today and I think a little more patient. It was a better offensive approach than it was (on Friday night).”
Lopez relieved Nicholson and allowed five runs on six hits with five strikeouts and one walk in five innings.
Castanon’s fourth-inning blast came off of Lopez, and it cleared the 25-foot net beyond the left-field fence.
“He hit that one pretty good,” Checketts said. “It’s not just the homer for me, it’s that he hit the ball up the middle of the field (on Friday) and today he hit a slider hard to right field. He’s hitting multiple pitches and using the field. Maybe in his immature days, he would just try and hit homers all the time. He’ll still have some at-bats like that where he swings too much, but I’m seeing him make adjustments within his at-bat where he’ll take a big swing and be able to settle down and kind of take what the pitcher is giving him.
“He’s getting more mature at the plate. He’s always had the power, but now he’s making more hard contact, and it’s turning into base hits and home runs.”
Castanon’s homer was his team-leading fourth of the season.
“I just feel really relaxed at the plate,” he said. “I’m focusing on hitting what the pitcher is giving me. I don’t feel like I’m forcing myself to hit a home run. The at-bats just feel like I’m putting a good swing on (the ball).”
UCSB goes for the three-game sweep with today’s series finale at 11 a.m. at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Sophomore right-hander Michael McGreevy (1-0, 0.64 earned run average) is scheduled to start on the mound for the Gauchos. McGreevy is coming off of a superb outing last Sunday against Abilene Christian, when he tossed eight scoreless innings.
“He’s been solid so far,” Checketts said. “I think when you go into Sunday and he’s on the mound, you feel pretty good about that. I’m looking for him to have another good one. He’s had a couple of good ones so far.”