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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona baseball opens 2015-16 campaign at Rice

Alex McIntyre
Arizona pitcher Robbey Medel (34) throws a pitch late in a game against ASU on April 28, 2015. Arizona baseball opens its 2015-2016 season Friday at Rice University.

Arizona baseball will begin its 2015-16 season with fierce competition when the Wildcats head to Houston, Texas to take on powerhouse Rice University for a three game series beginning Friday.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Arizona head baseball coach Jay Johnson said. “You’re talking about a program that’s won twenty consecutive conference championships (and) been to the NCAA tournament 21 years in a row. That’s probably unprecedented.”

One of the big questions going into the series was who would start the opening game of the season. Johnson has called upon left-hander JC Cloney, a fourth year junior transfer student from the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California.

“Even though it’s his first year here, he has great command of four pitches, really throws strikes, low strikes, moves the ball in and out, and changes speeds, which is what all good pitchers do,” Johnson said. “We feel like he matches up well with Rice. He’s earned it and we’re excited to see him go.”

Cloney will not have an easy opponent for his first game as a Wildcat, as he will go up against left-hander Blake Fox. In 50 games over his three-year career, Fox has a 26-2 record and a 2.44 ERA. Cloney said he has not thought about Fox too much and is just focused on his personal performance.

Beyond Cloney starting opening day, the Wildcats’ starting rotation and bullpen is yet to be determined.

“I just think that we want to look at the first weekend and put them (the pitchers) in situations where we think they can be successful,” pitching coach Dave Lawn said. “We really are going to take a look at each and every game and not worry about tomorrow or two days from now. Guys will emerge and stay in certain roles.”

Both Johnson and Lawn mentioned Bobby Dalbec as someone that can easily be placed in both a starting and closing role.

“I think throughout the year you’ll see him in a variety of roles,” Johnson said. “I know he’ll finish games at some point and he’ll probably pitch at points in the game where it’s going one way or another.”

Over the weekend, Johnson hopes to see his team be competitive, and to not allow the game to become more important to the other team than it is to his. Johnson looks forward to seeing his team compete for the first time this season.

“They’ve trained great, they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do, and the game day is really a reward for them,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be a better team a few weeks from now then we are now, but I’m excited to see them out and compete.”

Players to watch

Catchers Ryan Haug and Cesar Salazar.

Haug is a sophomore transfer from Santa Rosa JC, and he was named the Big 8 Player of the year, hitting .368 with 19 RBI in 36 games.

Salazar is a freshman originally from Hermosillo, Mexico, and moved to Tucson three years ago and attended Sahauro High School. In his senior season, he had a .613 batting average over 62 at bats.

Johnson said his team is in a “really fortunate situation,” and that both catchers will play a lot throughout the season. He did say Salazar may see a bit of an edge in playing because he has been healthy.

2nd Baseman JJ Matijevic:

Matijevic is in his sophomore year and is transitioning from first to second base to make the Wildcats “a little more of a dynamic offense.” Johnson said he has done a great job at learning the position, and that the coaching staff has made lots of adjustments to his swing to make him a more consistent hitter.

Outfielder Zach Gibbons:

Gibbons is in his senior season, and looks to build on a season where he hit .287 and had 22 RBI in 50 games. In his four years, Gibbons said this is the most prepared he thinks the team has been going in into the season.

Follow Brandon James on Twitter 

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