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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Baseball’s young arms holding Wildcats back

    Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Wildcats beat the Oregon State Beavers 6-5 Friday afternoon at Sancet Stadium.
    Mike Christy
    Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat Wildcats beat the Oregon State Beavers 6-5 Friday afternoon at Sancet Stadium.

    In a season mired with inconsistency, it’s tough to point the finger at one main reason for the Arizona baseball team’s struggles.

    The Wildcats’ 3-9 league record puts them 9th in the Pac-10, and although they have a potent offense, it tends to disappear in big games.

    Of all the struggles, none loom larger than the ineffectiveness of the starting rotation – especially the younger pitchers.

    After dropping four straight Pacific 10 Conference series, Arizona hosts New Mexico (28-8, 8-4 Mountain West Conference) for their first non-conference series beginning todnight at 7.

    “”We have to get one of these younger guys to get going,”” UA head coach Andy Lopez said Saturday after losing to Oregon State. “”It’s been a nightmare, and we’re running out of options.””

    Running out of options is an understatement. In their eight weekend series so far this season, the Wildcats have started four different pitchers on Sundays, including a 23-9 loss to UCLA and back-to-back starts where freshman Bryce Bandilla failed to record a single out in the first inning before being pulled.

    “”Man, Sunday starters,”” UA catcher Dwight Childs said. “”We need more strikes out of them – the things that we go over and over and over in practice. We need to clean up our pitching.””

    Bandilla, fellow freshman Donn Roach, and transfer sophomore Matt Veltmann have been the main culprits for the rotation’s struggles this season. The three are a combined 5-10 on the season, and their ERAs are 7.76, 8.68, and 10.48, respectively.

    Being in a slump is one thing, but Lopez believes that the reasons behind their struggles are deeper than that.

    “”If you don’t compete, you don’t really get a chance (to win),”” Lopez said. “”That’s my frustration with some of these young guys. By competing that means you throw strikes, so you’re really just asking them to compete well, and if you compete well things always work out.””

    Much to Lopez’s chagrin, that hasn’t happened yet.

    “”They have to toughen up a little bit and they need to get better,”” Lopez said. “”I know they’re young and I know there’s a learning curve, but there comes a point in time when the learning curve starts to hit a diminishing return. There comes a point where you start seeing this may be a little bit more than they can handle right now.””

    Lopez’s frustration with his young arms has led him to drastic changes. Kyle Simon, perhaps the lone freshman pitcher who currently has the proper mentality to please Lopez, is now the Saturday starter.

    The Sunday role is still up in the air, but Joe Allison and Daniel Workman – two pitchers who can prove their candidacy for that spot against New Mexico this week – are likely to be next in line.

    Even if Lopez manages to find a reliable third starter, the pitchers who haven’t quite lived up to their potential will still have to pitch in relief.

    “”The hard part is, because of injuries that we’ve had, there aren’t many options,”” Lopez said. “”That’s what I’ve told a couple of the guys, there are no other options. I don’t have a minor league system that I can go to, you have to pitch.””

    Regardless of whether Roach, Bandilla, or Veltmann will succeed in a relief role, the talent UA lost to the MLB draft last year might require the three new guys to succeed sooner rather than later.

    Lopez attributes his young pitchers’ inability to succeed to their inability to prepare and the tendency to take their responsibilities as student-athletes too lightly.

    “”They get a chance to play every day and they get a chance to grow up,”” he said. “”That’s why Mom and Dad sent them here – to get a degree and grow up.

    “”That gets distorted because they all think they’re going to be first-round draft picks, and that’s a shame. We’re working on (their attitudes) on a daily basis, because they’re not all going to be millionaires in the first round, they need to come out and compete.””

    After all, it is only a game.

    “”(Baseball) is supposed to prepare you for real life, and this isn’t really life. This is collegiate athletics,”” Lopez said “”I try to tell them on a daily basis, ‘I’m not sending you to Iraq or Afghanistan, just come out here and throw strikes.'””

    Moving forward

    If the Wildcats thought that a midweek series against a non-conference opponent would be a chance to take a deep breath, they need to think again.

    Since the Wildcats have had such a difficult time winning Pac-10 games, these two games might be crucial to restoring confidence.

    “”There’s definitely a sense of urgency now,”” Childs said. “”If we want to go to the playoffs, we need to win.””

    Just as they have all season, the Wildcats don’t drown themselves in scouting reports and film of the opposition, choosing instead to fine-tune their own game.

    “”It’s on us,”” Childs added. “”Players play and coaches coach. We have to clean it up in all aspects of the game.””

    Joe Allison (1-0, 1.59 ERA) will start on Tuesday, followed by Daniel Workman (0-0, 2.19 ERA) on Wednesday.

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