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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

UA bullpen exposed in Tempe

The last time the Arizona baseball team marched into Tempe, everything was going right for the Wildcats. They were fresh off of a sweep of Washington State and not even a freak pre-game injury to their starting pitcher would stop them from outplaying the then-No. 1 Sun Devils to a 4-2 victory.

But almost a month and a half has gone by, and after dropping four of their last six games, the No. 22 Wildcats (29-14, 9-9 Pacific 10 Conference) were thoroughly embarrassed by the Sun Devils, 13-1, in Tempe Tuesday night.

“”They played well, we played poorly,”” head coach Andy Lopez said after the game. “”It’s a bad combination for a good baseball game to happen.””

Arizona was forced to burn through six different pitchers in the bloodbath while No. 2 ASU (39-5, 14-4) only needed starter Brady Rodgers and one Sun Devil reliever to three-hit the Wildcats and hand them their fifth loss in the last seven games.

“”A rough couple of innings. Obviously we played pretty poorly,”” Lopez said. “”Nine walks and a couple of errors and a couple of mental mistakes that kind of complicated things. They took tremendous advantage of it.””

In his first career start, Arizona freshman pitcher and usual closer Nick Cunningham made it through 3 1/3 innings unscathed, but when he was lifted from the game with two runners on in the fourth inning, ASU blew things open.

After relieving Cunningham, freshman Vince Littleman was blasted for four runs in the inning, but the onslaught didn’t stop there. The Wildcats were able to keep ASU off of the scoreboard in the fifth, but the Sun Devils tore apart three different Arizona pitchers on their way to seven sixth-inning runs.

While ASU thoroughly exposed Arizona’s weak bullpen, Rodgers blanked the Wildcats through eight innings, allowing only two hits while striking out seven.

“”He was outstanding tonight,”” Lopez said of Rodgers. “”He has a bright future. He does a good job, throws a lot of strikes, a lot of presence and shows a lot of command.””

But if Rodgers was storyline

No. 1, the Arizona pen was a unanimous No. 2.

Arizona has struggled with its bullpen all season long, and in a mid-week game like this, in which at least three or four relievers are usually used, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Wildcats’ mid-inning arms were blasted by one of the nation’s top offenses.

“”We threw a lot of young guys out there,”” Lopez said. “”I think everyone but one was a freshman, and they looked like it, and they pitched like it, and you can’t do that. You can’t do that against anybody, especially against a good team, and they are a good team.””

— Rodney Haas contributed reporting.

What the future brings

There is no doubt that the Wildcats need an answer in the bullpen, but what is also alarming is that the Wildcats could only muster up three hits Tuesday night in Tempe.

At one point in the season it seemed that no one could keep the Wildcats off the base path. They scored double-digit runs seemingly every game and led the Pac-10 in almost every offensive category.

When they were riding high, the Wildcats were mentioned in the same breath as the ASUs and UCLAs, but with so many youngsters on the squad, there was fear that the “”rookie wall”” was on the horizon.

In the last seven games since defeating ASU on April 20 the Wildcats have averaged a sub-par 3.7 runs per game. Could it be the rookie wall coming to fruition?

The good thing for the Wildcats is that four of those games came against top-5 teams in the nation, and today’s was of the mid-week variety, with the usual closer throwing the first pitch.

But in between the series loss to UCLA and Tuesday’s thrashing at ASU was an ugly series loss to Pac-10 bottom-feeder USC. A sweep of the Trojans seemed imminent, but instead the Wildcats had to claw from a 6-0 deficit to come away with only one win.

 

The collegiate baseball world will have a better idea of where this team stands when it hosts the Sun Devils for a three-game series on May 15-18, but as of now, it’s not quite as easy to label the Wildcats as one of the Pac-10’s top teams.

 

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