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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Baseball struggles in relief

    With three conference series and 15 total games remaining on the Arizona baseball team’s schedule, the balance in performance of the Wildcats’ pitching staff has taken a shift.

    In each of Arizona’s last three games, freshman pitchers received starts and each were impressive.

    But suddenly the struggles appear to have primarily shifted to the backside of the pitching staff as Wildcat relievers Jason Stoffel (1-1) and Matt Veltmann (2-5) combined to allow 10 earned runs in the ninth inning during a 20-3 blowout loss to No. 3 ASU Wednesday.

    Thankfully for Arizona (19-21, 5-13 Pacific 10 Conference) the loss counted as an out-of-conference battle, but with California (19-23, 6-12) coming into town tonight for a three-game set, the recent trend in performance of the Wildcats’ bullpen, in spite of the starting rotation’s success is disturbing.

    “”(Wednesday) was very uncharacteristic of Stoffel,”” said UA head coach Andy Lopez. “”That really spiraled out of control and then Veltmann didn’t pitch too well either. Some of these older guys have struggled more than I thought they would this season and that’s just bad coaching on my part.””

    While no numbers from pitchers on the Arizona staff can be described as too positive, possibly the most surprising is the current status of Stoffel’s line.

    A preseason All-American coming into 2009, the Arizona closer has proven he’s all too human lately with a season ERA of 5.59 – the highest of his career.

    Since the first time Arizona battled the Sun Devils back on March 20, the junior has been horrendous, walking 15 batters while only striking out 10. Stoffel’s ERA over that period is 10.35, another surprising number considering his reputation as one of the finest relief arms at the collegiate level.

    Because of his struggles, Lopez has begun to show signs of concern. In fact, the Arizona skipper even declined to throw Stoffel against Gonzaga back on April 20 – the day after Stoffel blew a save against Washington State – instead giving the opportunity to reliever Cory Burns who converted on the chance.

    After Wednesday’s meltdown in a ninth-inning relief effort, Stoffel was visibly shaken.

    “”I had a lot of trouble locating my fastball,”” Stoffel said after Wednesday’s loss. “”My velocity is down from what it was the last couple years and I’ve lost some sweep on my breaking ball. It’s just a compound of problems.””

    Luckily for Arizona, its problems with the starting rotation have begun to show signs of reversal after impressive recent performances from each of the staff’s young arms.

    Last Saturday against Stanford, right-hander Kyle Simon started with an ERA higher than 5.00 but managed to hold the Cardinal to just three runs on six hits through seven innings of work. The Wildcats’ normally potent offense sputtered, though, pushing only one run across in a 3-1 loss.

    Arizona got another strong effort on Sunday, this time from freshman Daniel Workman, who went four innings, allowing just one earned run while collecting a pair of strikeouts. But errors and pitch-count restrictions resulted in the right-hander’s early exit and prevented him from picking up what would have been his second career win.

    Again, the Wildcats watched one of their struggling young arms take the hill Wednesday and he looked impressive. Southpaw Bryce Bandilla held No. 3 ASU scoreless through three innings in what was his first appearance against the Sun Devils since they chased him from the game without recording an out back on March 22.

    “”I’ve been really pleased with the young guys lately,”” Lopez said. “”If you look at the last 10-15 games a lot of our young arms have been OK.

    “”Bandilla pitched pretty well in certain spots, and Workman and Simon are pitching very well too,”” Lopez added. “”They still make some of those freshman mistakes, but for the most part I’ve been very pleased.””

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