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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Woes moun(d)ing for Arizona baseball

    During a meeting prior to the start of

    Arizona’s baseball season, head coach Andy Lopez handed me a paper – something he typically gives to recruits.

    Throughout the three pages were lists of statistics, and their subject’s name, focusing on one aspect of Arizona baseball: pitching.

    The title of the paper read, “”Changing the Perception,”” while the first underlined section was titled, “”Arizona pitching development under Andy Lopez.””

    Since taking over as the Wildcats’ pitching coach in 2004, Lopez has produced four NCAA Regional teams – two won the Regional championship – and also took the 2004 Arizona squad to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

    The paper also listed a slew of 10-game winning pitchers since 2004 along with numerous draft picks, all falling within the first 10 rounds.

    But the stat which stood out most came on the second page where in 2007 and 2008, the Wildcats’ pitching staff logged the lowest opponent batting averages in program history at .257 and .253, respectively.

    “”I have been fortunate to have some great arms come through (the program),”” Lopez said prior to the season. “”To be successful you need good pitching and that is always a top priority.””

    It is no surprise that Lopez prides himself in his ability as a pitching coach. Let’s be honest, he has been pretty damn good.

    But this season – blame it on the youth, or the five Arizona pitchers who signed with professional teams after last season – Lopez has seen none of that magic.

    To date, the Wildcats not only find themselves dead last in the Pacific 10 Conference in terms of record but also in the basement for opponent batting average (.304) and team ERA (5.80).

    Arizona has only two pitchers with ERA’s less than 4.00 and both have seen less than seven innings on the mound.

    Lopez has gone through six starting pitchers and has yet to settle on a consistent Sunday starter. While right-hander Matt Veltmann has appeared to solidify himself in the rotation as the Saturday guy, his performance has been shaky at best with a 2-3 record along side an ERA of over 8.00.

    The only steady starting pitcher on the staff is senior Preston Guilmet, and even he has seen his ups and downs this year. The righty has a matching record to Veltmann, however he has used strong performances in his last few outings to pull his ERA to 4.46 while leading the team in strikeouts with 34 alongside junior Jason Stoffel.

    But the issues reach beyond the starting rotation as the team has searched all year for solid arms for relief in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings when the ball can then be handed to one of the nation’s best closers in Stoffel – who has five saves on the year thus far.

    In essence, the staff is in turmoil as it plows into conference season at the bottom of the standings in five categories, including runs (164) and hits allowed (154).

    What the staff needs more than anything is to find an identity and to find it quickly. Last season, Arizona went through a rough stretch as well with Guilmet struggling with a dead arm and the Sunday starter also unclear. However, the Wildcats finally found their balance by anchoring the bullpen.

    Lopez moved right-hander Ryan Perry – the team’s original third starter – to the bullpen where he became a solid force going 5-1 with a 1.59 ERA in relief.

    Arizona also leaned on southpaw Daniel Schlereth, who used a 1.81 ERA over 54 2/3 innings of work to set up Stoffel for 13 saves and a 4-2 record during the 2008 season.

    The trio combined to create an unhittable force for Arizona in the late innings taking pressure off of the Wildcats’ starters.

    Lopez’s molding of his bullpen helped carry the team to a second-consecutive 40-win season and the Super Regionals of the NCAA tournament.

    This year, after losing both Perry and Schlereth as first-round MLB draft picks, Lopez may not be quite as fortunate talent-wise. But talent or not, Arizona could be one key move away from another strong staff which would be characteristic of the Wildcats’ skipper.

    Arizona has seen glimpses of success from several arms this season, but few have proven to be consistent.

    “”Inconsistency in pitching comes from work ethic,”” catcher Dwight Childs said after losing to UCLA on Sunday. “”Some of the guys have figured it out, but some of the guys haven’t figured it out yet.””

    Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ offense has been keeping its end of the bargain as it leads the Pac-10 in numerous categories including hits (270) and runs scored (199) in addition to a batting average of .312 – good for second in the conference.

    However, all season, Lopez has said time and time again, “”Success starts with good pitching.””

    So far he appears to be right.

    – Bobby Stover is a materials science and engineering junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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