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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats baseball sophomore Crawford takes advantage of opportunity

Carl+Miller++%2F++Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AUA+Baseball+wins+against+Texas+Tech+6-2+in+the+first+of+a+two-game+series+this+week.+Their+second+game+will+take+place+today+at+1pm+at+Hi+Corbett+Field.+
Carl Miller
Carl Miller / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Baseball wins against Texas Tech 6-2 in the first of a two-game series this week. Their second game will take place today at 1pm at Hi Corbett Field.

While it may be the third spot in a three-man rotation, the Sunday starter on every college baseball team plays an important, and sometimes decisive role, in weekend series.

It now looks like Arizona found its man in sophomore Tyler Crawford.

“[Crawford] did a great job,” head coach Andy Lopez said after a 5-4 win against California on April 7. “He commanded the strike zone.”

These are words Lopez hasn’t been able to consistently say for his Sunday starter all season long. At least until Crawford saw his number called at the back end of the rotation.

Crawford (4-1) continues his success with an even stronger start this past Sunday at Washington State. The sophomore threw Arizona’s first complete game and if it weren’t for a rough first and second inning, Crawford might have easily won conference pitcher of the week.

“I got to stop forcing myself to pitch into jams and allowing runners to get into scoring position,” Crawford said after his win over California. “I’ll go back over my [last two] starts with the coaches and see what I did well and what I did wrong and work from there.”

After giving up three runs on six hits in first three innings this past Sunday against Washington State, Crawford would settle into his start and not force himself into jams as only three Cougars reached base following the third inning.

Crawford is the third Arizona pitcher to start a Sunday game. The previous two, freshman Cody Moffett and red shirt junior Stephen Manthei, were unable to string together strong appearances.
]Moffett has a 3.99 ERA while Manthei has a 5.71 ERA.

Crawford was given second billing in the rotation as a sophomore because Lopez said he wanted to give older guys, like Manthei, the first shot. Crawford still saw action in four midweek starts and four relief appearances at the start of the year.

In those eight games, Crawford posted a 2.08 ERA. He was consistently good, but not great.

The biggest factor that seemed to hold him back was his pitch count which kept him from going late into games. Crawford answered that question in his first Sunday start against Utah as he threw 93 pitches and gave up no runs, five hits and three walks in 6.1 innings pitched.

He then topped that by only needing 85 pitches in all nine innings Sunday against Washington State.

“With all these younger guys, if you keep playing them, they get better,” Lopez said. “[Crawford] doesn’t throw hard, but he commands his three pitches and does what he has to do.”

Unlike most sophomores, Crawford has quite a bit of game experience. Crawford was the most used relief pitcher for Lopez last season and a big piece in the Wildcats’ late season national championship run. Making 15 appearances in 2012, including two starts, Crawford posted a 1-1 record with a 3.05 ERA.

In their 10 post season games, Crawford made three appearances out of the bullpen and allowed just one run to score in 4.1 innings of work as he helped Arizona capture its fourth baseball championship.

Arizona has won eight out of it’s last nine since Crawford was named the Sunday starter in the Utah series. He is one of the quieter players on the team but his last three starts have been increasingly loud and are one of the reasons why the Wildcats are back in the thick of the Pac-12 conference race.

Crawford said he understands his role as the Sunday starter and is just happy to finally crack the rotation.

“I’m really excited to go out there again to start the game,” Crawford said. “It’s an important job I have. I know I’ll get better as the season goes along. I just got to stop playing with fire and leaving some pitches over the zone.”

– Luke Della is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @LukeDellaDW.

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