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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Pro/Con: should Melancon start?

    To start or to close, that is the question. If he starts, junior pitcher Mark Melancon gives Arizona an ace at the top of its rotation. However, will the team be able to fill the hole he leaves as one of the top closers in the country?
    To start or to close, that is the question. If he starts, junior pitcher Mark Melancon gives Arizona an ace at the top of its rotation. However, will the team be able to fill the hole he leaves as one of the top closers in the country?

    Starting fireballer gives UA an ace

    While ultimately baseball players win games, it’s up to the manager to use his roster in the best possible way to get his top players on the field for the most innings.

    By making junior right-handed pitcher Mark Melancon the Friday starter for the Arizona baseball team, Arizona head coach Andy Lopez is doing just that.

    Any coach would want his best pitcher to get as many innings as possible, so despite Melancon’s great value as a closer, as the game is typically over when he enters, the team would be better served for him to pitch more innings by starting.

    When the Wildcats face No. 6 Oregon State’s junior ace Dallas Buck and No. 25 Southern California’s junior stud Ian Kennedy later in the year, they need to throw out an ace who can put up zeroes with the best of them.

    Melancon (1-0, 0.00 ERA) is that guy, having thrown consecutive nearly flawless outings this year after dominating all of last year with 11 saves and a 2.58 ERA, good for No. 4 in the conference behind Buck,

    Kennedy and Beavers junior closer Kevin Gunderson and best on the team by over a run.

    Last year’s roster included eventual draft picks John Meloan (fifth round, Los Angeles Dodgers) and Kevin Guyette (10th round, Boston Red Sox) in the starting rotation and the two-headed then-freshman monster of David Coulon and Eric Berger for Sundays.

    Melancon helped the team most by preserving leads for Meloan and Guyette, who combined averaged more than six innings per start, or other times by pitching three to five innings to seal a Sunday win if he wasn’t needed much earlier in the weekend.

    With Meloan and Guyette gone, the Wildcats don’t have that luxury this season, but they do have the services of redshirt freshman reliever Daniel Schlereth, who has nearly identical numbers to Melancon thus far. While neither pitcher has allowed any runs, Schlereth has two saves to Melancon’s one and has struck out two more batters in the same amount of innings.

    It’s nice to have two stoppers like that, as the bullpen has been without a doubt the team’s biggest strength thus far, but the starting pitching has been mediocre. While adding Melancon, who is on the Clemens Watch List for the nation’s best pitcher, immediately boosts that group, Berger should be moved out of the Friday role and into the bullpen.

    That should not be seen as a demotion but as another way of improving the team.

    Last year Coulon started the majority of the Sunday games if for no other reason than because Berger felt more comfortable coming out of the bullpen, and the numbers are staggering.

    Last year Berger was shelled to the tune of a 13.00 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP in three lackluster starts but dominated out of the pen, going 6-2 with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 21 outings. This year has been more of the same for Berger, the team’s second-best pitcher behind Melancon, as he’s just 1-1 with a 6.30 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP.

    While Lopez said Berger will start on Saturday, the Wildcats should keep their other starters in their current roles: freshman right-hander Mike Colla (0-0, 6.43), a two-time all-state selection in high school, on Saturday and junior lefty Brad Mills (2-0, 3.24), who made Baseball America’s all-summer league and deserves a try, on Sunday.

    This way the Wildcats would still have two stud arms in their bullpen and get the best possible production out of Berger.

    They also would get the most out of Melancon, who would be able to pitch closer to the 110-plus innings Meloan and Guyette threw last year than his 66.

    Mentally it won’t make a difference to Melancon, as he seems to genuinely want both roles.

    Before the season, Melancon seemed confused himself as to when he wants to pitch, both desiring a chance to start – which shouldn’t be a tough adjustment because he said he started in high school – yet also yearning for the pressure situations in closing that he thrives on.

    “”It doesn’t matter to me honestly,”” Melancon said. “”People ask me that all the time. I think pitching is pitching, the only difference is having a little different mentality and sitting on the bench for a couple hours before you go in as opposed to knowing when you’re going to start and get out there and have a little better set routine.””

    The beauty of starting Melancon now is that it’s only February. Conference play is a month and a half away, so if Melancon’s numbers as a starter take a Berger-esque twist, then Lopez can easily make him a closer again.

    With Melancon’s mental makeup that’s doubtful, so if all goes well once playoff time roles around, Melancon would have no difficulty being used as the ace starter to start the series and ace closer to end it if he’s needed, maximizing his impact on the club.

    By making Melancon a starter, Lopez has an ace up his sleeve.

    Michael Schwartz
    assistant sports editor

    Rotation change must be gradual

    “”It’s in the back of my mind. If Eric doesn’t perform like a Friday-night guy, then we’ll probably do that with Mark.””

    The words of Arizona head coach Andy Lopez before practice last week explain why there will be a new Wildcat toeing the mound this Friday, and, yes, there are statistics to back him up.

    In two starts this season, sophomore lefty Eric Berger has gone 1-1, surrendered 15 hits and 11 runs, walked one and struck out seven in 10 innings of work. When compared to the numbers of the man who will replace him, junior right-handed pitcher Mark Melancon, who is 1-0 with a spotless ERA of 0.00 in two relief appearances and has struck out seven against one walk in 7 2/3 innings, it seems like a no-brainer, as I’m sure Michael’s already told you.

    But don’t bite the bait too quickly. Consider the following.

    How will Berger respond in his new Saturday role?

    If it’s not as positive as Lopez hopes it will be, will he be moved to middle relief? That could completely destroy the young kid’s confidence.

    Will redshirt freshman right-hander Daniel Schlereth continue his dominance out of the pen?

    Schlereth has two saves in 7 2/3 innings of work, totaling nine strikeouts against two hits and a walk, but as every girl has ever told a guy she’s dating, things change with titles. If he falters, who will replace the man who replaces Melancon as the closer?

    What will the trickle-down effect be – not only on the rotation, but on the rest of the pitching staff?

    So far, a Sunday starter has yet to be determined. Sure, a little competition never hurt anyone, and it should help freshman righty Mike Colla and junior lefty Brad Mills, but will the bullpen be as strong without their anchor, Melancon?

    And possibly the biggest question to arise out of this situation:

    How will Melancon fare as the Friday starter?

    Arizona’s career leader in saves (with 15) has one start in his illustrious career as a Wildcat. A large reason why he’s so successful has to do with the fact that he’s familiar in his role as a closer.

    Berger, in contrast, has five starts under his belt now, and in his defense, his runs-against statistic is a little inflated, as only seven of them are earned thanks in part to some early-season errors.

    There are too many questions that can’t be answered at this very moment, but perhaps they will be this Friday when Melancon toes the mound against New Mexico at 4 p.m. for his second career start.

    And maybe, just maybe, these very same questions are lingering on the mind of Andy Lopez.

    “”We’re getting some answers to some questions, which is what this whole process is all about,”” he said Sunday. “”We’re trying to figure out where the people are best suited for the program’s success right now.””

    Ryan Casey
    staff writer

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