The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

62° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The Closer(s)

    With closer Daniel Schlereth, left, out with torn cartilage since the start of the Pac-10 season, freshman Jason Stoffel, right, has filled in with three saves in five appearances, and hasnt allowed a run during the conference slate. Schlereth will return this weekend, but Stoffel will continue with closing duties for now.
    With closer Daniel Schlereth, left, out with torn cartilage since the start of the Pac-10 season, freshman Jason Stoffel, right, has filled in with three saves in five appearances, and hasn’t allowed a run during the conference slate. Schlereth will return this weekend, but Stoffel will continue with closing duties for now.

    Andy Lopez has been here before.

    The UA head baseball coach lost his closer, Mark Melancon, for the last seven weeks of the 2006 season.

    And though the lefty who replaced Melancon last year, Daniel Schlereth, finished with a team-high seven saves, the impact of the loss of Melancon, now a prospect in the New York Yankees organization who holds the Arizona record with 18 career saves, strained the Wildcats.

    “”Once he got hurt, we disappeared,”” Lopez said.

    With Melancon gone this season, it was Schlereth’s job from the outset.

    Perhaps best known before this year as the son of Mark Schlereth, a former NFL offensive lineman and current analyst for ESPN’s “”NFL Live,”” the younger Schlereth started to make a name for himself at the beginning of this season.

    In 13 relief appearances, he has allowed just one run in 18 innings, and was 1-0 with eight saves. But Schlereth tore his cartilage while warming up against then-No. 16 ASU March 28. (He still entered the game, pitching two perfect innings for the save.)

    Schlereth hasn’t pitched since, though he’ll return this weekend when No. 13 Arizona travels to Los Angeles to take on Pacific 10 Conference-leading No. 25 UCLA.

    And though the loss of Schlereth has been felt – forcing Lopez to stretch the outings of tomorrow’s and Saturday’s starters Preston Guilmet and Brad Mills – Arizona hasn’t disappeared, thanks in large part to his temporary replacement, freshman Jason Stoffel, a right-hander Lopez compares to Melancon.

    “”Other than Mark Melancon … I’ve never had a freshman really jump in – I guess the best way to describe it is jump in with two feet,”” Lopez said. “”I mean I’ve had freshmen we’ve put in with kind of one foot in, one foot out – some days they look good; some days they don’t want any part of it. I mean this guy really wants to pitch late in the game.””

    Stoffel has yet to allow a run in his five appearances in conference play, and all three of his saves have come in that span – a fact that becomes all the more magnified considering Schlereth has yet to pitch an inning of the Pac-10 season.

    Stoffel simply laughed when told of the comparisons to Melancon: “”That’s a pretty good comparison,”” he said.

    But the 6-foot-1 native of Agoura, Calif., never envisioned himself to be in the same position as Melancon, who saved three games as a freshman.

    “”I was just trying to get innings this year,”” Stoffel said, “”I didn’t really care where they were.””

    Stoffel credits Schlereth with helping him adjust to the closer’s role – but Schlereth credits Stoffel.

    “”I helped him out a little bit,”” Schlereth said, “”but he’s just done it on his own. … In the future, he could be the top-notch guy in the bullpen.””

    Lopez has different plans for Stoffel.

    “”I envision him being a Friday-night guy here one day, real soon,”” he said. “”He just has that kind of presence.””

    Even with the return of Schlereth – who Lopez puts at “”80 to 90 percent”” – Stoffel will remain in the closer’s role, with Schlereth operating in a “”left-handed match-up role”” until he’s fully ready to go, Lopez said.

    Still, Schlereth, who, with 15 career saves, sitting three shy of Melancon’s record, had a hard time hiding his excitement at the possibility of returning to the mound.

    “”It’s been freakin’ a month now,”” he said. “”I feel like I’ve never played baseball.

    “”Whatever (Lopez) wants me to do, I’ll do,”” Schlereth added later. “”Whenever I’m called upon, I’ll do what he wants.””

    The sophomore had a bullpen session Tuesday, during which he threw two of his three pitches (fastball and changeup) and hit 88 mph on the radar gun, just 2 mph shy of his normal speed.

    He’s repeatedly called his time on the bench “”frustrating,”” and it’s no secret Schlereth wants to return to the closer’s role. After being moved back to the bullpen following a rocky shot at starting to open the season, he acknowledged he loves the pressure of closing.

    Schlereth called his save of a 2-1 win over then-No. 12 Cal State Fullerton – arguably the biggest save of his career to date – “”the best it gets,”” and he rolled his eyes when his only start was mentioned.

    “”You’ve got the whole routine thing as a starter, and as a closer, you’re flying by the seat of your pants,”” Schlereth said, letting out a laugh, “”which fits me a little better.””

    But until he gets that chance again, he’ll be content just to see the mound once more.

    “”I’m just excited to get back with the team again,”” he said. “”I feel like I’ve been doing nothing for the past month.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search