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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Freshmen seizing opportunities created by Arizona baseball’s bullpen struggles

Amy Webb
Amy Webb / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Baseball vs. NDSU in the opening weekend of the season and on Hi-Corbet Field.

In the first five games of No. 7 Arizona’s baseball season, one problem has made itself clear — bullpen pitching.

As the players penciled into their positions at the start of the season struggle, head coach Andy Lopez is looking to his younger pitchers to fill the lacking roles.

“Both (Mathew Troupe and Lucas Long) are kind of picking up the slack here with some of the juniors that struggled last week,” Lopez said.

Troupe has yet to give up a run in his two appearances and Long has already shown he can be counted upon for long relief after throwing five innings when he came in for long relief during a 12-6 win over Utah Valley. Long was awarded the win that game after giving up four hits and striking out six.

Lopez said Troupe and Long are working toward earning a permanent spot in the bullpen’s rotation.

The relievers haven’t been called upon too often so far this season since starters Kurt Heyer and Konner Wade have been solid, and starter James Farris threw a complete game in one of his two starts.

But as the second game of Arizona’s season showed, even a dominant start can be ruined by a poor bullpen performance.

Wade gave up just two hits and had 13 strikeouts against North Dakota State before he was pulled for junior Vincent Littleman.

Littleman only faced one batter — which he walked — but it was the start of a bullpen collapse.

The four relievers combined to give up six runs in just two-thirds of an inning, turning the 2-2 game that Wade left into an 8-2 loss.

Lopez said that he gives the older guys a shot first, but if they don’t take advantage of the opportunity, the younger players will get their chance to show what they can do.

And while the juniors haven’t consistently struggled — reliever Stephen Manthei has the Wildcats’ lone save on the season — the upperclassmen haven’t exactly inspired confidence.

Manthei had been pegged as the closer to start the season, and in his one opportunity, he gave up one hit in two scoreless innings for a 3-1 win over North Dakota State.

But Manthei hasn’t pitched to that level since. He was part of the 8-2 defeat, giving up two hits and two earned runs without recording an out. And in the Wildcats’ last game — an 8-3 loss to Auburn — Manthei gave up two earned runs and hit a batter in just one inning.

“Manthei had a very, very poor performance,” Lopez said after Saturday’s game.

Another player who Lopez said played below expectations on Saturday was junior Nick Cunningham, who has given up four earned runs in his two appearances on the season.

This is just the beginning of the season, though. Manthei’s 12.00 ERA and Cunningham’s 18.00 ERA will surely go down as the season continues, but if Arizona wants to win the Pac-12 title and surpass teams like No. 4 Stanford, they’ll need someone to step up in the bullpen — and so far the only ones to do so are the freshmen.

“We have got to get those guys in as much as we can so they can get ready for Pac-12 play,” Heyer said. “Every inning that they get, they’re getting a little more experience.”

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