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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Handling the bullpen

It was no surprise that when refocused ace Kenzie Fowler stepped into the circle this weekend, the Arizona softball team also looked refreshed, bouncing the Stanford Cardinal in a three-game sweep.

As Fowler goes, the Wildcats go, but therein lies a dilemma: When does she wear out?

“”I don’t feel like I can throw Kenzie out there every day for the rest of the year and keep her strong,”” head coach Mike Candrea said. “”On the other hand, you’ve got to get her in the mindset that when we get into postseason, she may have to go three games in a row.””

Sitting in the No. 2 pitching position is senior Sarah Akamine.

Last season, she developed into option 1a during a year in which Arizona didn’t consistently have a dominant pitcher. Still, Akamine pitched well enough to land Arizona in the Women’s College World Series, going 22-8 with a 2.52 ERA.

But with a similar offense this year, Akamine has struggled with a 3.38 ERA. Her win total sits at a solid 11-2, but it doesn’t show how apt Candrea is to throw in Fowler if Akamine begins to struggle.

Candrea did just that during Sunday’s game against Cardinal, replacing Akamine after 2 1/3 innings and three earned runs that put Arizona in a hole. “”We need Sarah, and we need her in a big way to get through this (season),”” Candrea said. “”She needs to battle through this right now.””

“”She’s not pitching with a lot of confidence,”” he added. “”She’s over the plate a lot. When you’re battling Pac-10 hitters, that’s not a good thing.””

And with Akamine struggling, it’s hard for a man as competitive as Candrea to leave Fowler sitting in the dugout.

After breaking down the game film from a week prior — one that saw No. 1 Washington rip Arizona in three games — Fowler looked sharp as ever during the Stanford series.

“”I think it was a little bit of shock,”” Candrea said of Fowler’s experience in Seattle. “”Once we sat down and we looked at the video, we showed her we were getting beat on 1-2, 0-2 counts. She just has to be more careful with those counts in this league.””

“”The balls that were hit were balls that were left on the plate,”” he added. “”I think she came in and we had a good discussion about the weekend. It was beneficial for her.””

Fowler, whose pitches can top 90 mph, was reminded that speed isn’t always the name of the game. Trying to mix up her pitches, Fowler shut down a seventh inning Cardinal rally in Friday’s 3-2 nail-biter. Candrea called her performance one of the “”defining moments of a pitcher’s career.””

With the tying score on and shortstop Jenna Rich up to bat, Fowler took the game into her own hands.

Jumping on Rich with a 1-2 count, Fowler did exactly what she hadn’t against the Huskies a week prior — finish off the batter with an off-speed screwball.

The strategy?

“”Just mix it around,”” Fowler said of the final out. “”We went out and went back in. Just keep it in the infield, (we) didn’t want to give her something she can get extended on.””

While that’s a positive area of growth, it only gives Candrea more reason not to pitch the freshman.

He plans to throw Akamine in the finales of three-game series, giving potential postseason opponents less batting time against Fowler. But for that to happen, Candrea is left waiting for Akamine to find her groove.

“”Last year, she knew the team was depending on her and rose to the occasion,”” he said. “”Right now, she’s not feeling that way, but she’s got to feel that way. I think the big thing right now is to get her out there and have a good outing.

“”And really, if she can give me five good innings, four good innings, it saves some innings on the other end.””

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