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UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole remains a No. 1 option

Don’t ask UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole about the Major League Baseball draft on Monday. It’s against the rules.

“He has declined interview requests that focus on the upcoming MLB draft,” said an email from the school’s media relations department.

Don’t ask Cole about his 6-7 record heading into an NCAA regional game Friday night against San Francisco, either. He has a pat answer: “I stay focused on the team and myself. There is no magic wand to make it all positive.”

And don’t ask UCLA Coach John Savage why Cole will pitch the opener instead of Trevor Bauer, Collegiate Baseball magazine’s player of the year. This is, and has been, the plan. “Cole has been our Friday guy since the day he stepped on campus,” Savage said.

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There is no reason to ask any of that. Show and tell is about to begin. Cole, a junior, makes his last pitch this weekend before the draft, and will try to start the Bruins on a return trip to the College World Series.

So, yeah, Bauer, also a junior, has the numbers this season — 12-2 record, 1.27 earned-run average, 189 strikeouts — but Cole has the projections.

“He has issues, no doubt about it,” said a major league scout, who was not authorized to speak publicly about players. “He wasn’t as dominant this year. Guys were whistling balls off him more. But when you walk away, you realize you just saw a kid who consistently throws 95-98 miles per hour. I just don’t see anyone passing on him.”

Cole is projected as the likely first overall pick, by Pittsburgh. But the scout said, “When you’re spending that kind of money, you want to be absolutely sure.”

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Cole can ease some minds on Friday.

The Bruins, the top-seeded team in a tough regional, face a scrappy San Francisco team in a 6 p.m. game at Jackie Robinson Stadium. UC Irvine and Fresno State meet in the regional opener at 2 p.m.

UCLA advanced to the national championship series last season even though Cole’s postseason performance was mixed. He was 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA, but also struck out 37 batters in 26 2/3 innings.

Scouts have prodded and pried while observing Cole since he chose UCLA over the New York Yankees, who drafted him 28th overall after his senior season at Orange Lutheran High.

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So when Cole meandered this season, an entourage of scouts noticed.

“He was as good as there was in college baseball the first eight weeks of the season,” Savage said. “But we didn’t pile up a lot of runs for him.”

UCLA scored three or fewer runs in six of Cole’s 15 starts.

Cole, who is 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, has 108 strikeouts in 107 innings and a 3.28 ERA. Solid numbers, but he is 2-5 with a 5.04 ERA in his last seven starts.

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Cole said, “We analyzed things and made adjustments,” which produced back-to-back quality starts against California and Arizona State to finish the regular season.

“He was getting the ball over the middle of the plate and was lacking a little confidence during the middle of the season,” Savage said. “He never lost his stuff. His velocity never dropped.”

While that work was in progress, Bauer, with his herky-jerky motion, put up big numbers, solidifying his own future as a likely first-round pick on Monday. Still, Savage stuck with Cole as the Friday starter.

“Who’s kidding who? He was a first-round pick of the Yankees,” Savage said.

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The media interest, an offshoot of Internet draft projections, has UCLA limiting Cole’s exposure. He refused to talk to a New York Times reporter in April. An interview request this week brought the response, “as long as the interview is directly about this upcoming regional.”

Any major league executive with hopes that Cole can pitch in pressure situations, even with media scrutiny, can sleep soundly. He handled questions about the draft without cracking, though he offered little insight.

“I try not to read at all,” Cole said. “I go about my business. The draft is something that I can’t control.”

So don’t ask. Just listen to that scout: “You always go with the 6-4 kid who has that kind of stuff.”

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chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes


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