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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Bullpen struggles dragging down Arizona baseball

Amy Webb / Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA Baseball vs. NDSU in the opening weekend of the season and on Hi-Corbet Field.
Amy Webb
Amy Webb / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Baseball vs. NDSU in the opening weekend of the season and on Hi-Corbet Field.

After a series victory over Washington this weekend, the No. 13 Arizona baseball team (26-13, 12-6 Pac-12) now leads the conference and has shown it has what it takes to win the Pac-12 — just as long as the bullpen gets nowhere near the field.

The Wildcats’ three starters, junior Kurt Heyer and sophomores Konner Wade and James Farris, are 16-4 on the season and have a combined 3.30 ERA. Arizona’s offense is batting .320, which is the best in the conference. The relievers are 10-9 with a 5.36 ERA.
It’s not too hard to figure out that a baseball team needs solid pitching from its core starters to be successful, especially since college baseball teams use a three-man rotation.

But the consistently shaky bullpen is the main roadblock standing in the way of a Pac-12 crown for Arizona, or even a successful run in Omaha.

Against Washington, both Heyer and Wade threw complete games, and Farris threw 7.1 innings before getting yanked.

Arizona had a 4-2 lead when freshman Mathew Troupe came in relief of Farris, and unsurprisingly, the game went south from there.

Troupe entered the game the game with one out and a runner on first base. He left the game with still just one out on the board, but by then, the game was tied and the go-ahead run was standing on second base.

All season the bullpen has been the weakness of this team, and head coach Andy Lopez has said he needs his starters to go as long as they can.

The only saving grace so far this season had been Troupe and fellow closer Stephen Manthei, as both had shown the ability to close out tight games — but the key word is “had.”

Manthei was the first piece of the bullpen to collapse against No. 20 ASU, as he allowed three earned runs in just 1.2 innings off work. Then, in the 6-5 loss to Washington, the junior was charged with the loss, but considering he gave up just one run in 4.1 innings of work, the blame doesn’t directly fall on him. Of course, the praise doesn’t really fall on him either.

But Troupe is a different story, as things have fallen apart recently for the once dependable freshman.

In his last two appearances, Troupe has allowed six earned runs without recording a single out, putting the already thin bullpen in dire straights.

Troupe’s previous 1.28 ERA has ballooned to 4.64 after his last two mound appearances, leaving Manthei (3.90 ERA) as the only reliever with an ERA under 4.00.

To be fair, junior Tyler Hale (1-0, 4.40 ERA) and freshman Tyler Crawford (0-1, 4.50 ERA) have been serviceable in their recent outings, and junior Augey Bill still hasn’t allowed a run in his 2.2 innings pitched.

But with Manthei as the only consistently reliable pitcher, even more pressure has been put on the Wildcats’ front three pitchers — Arizona is just lucky the Pac-12 doesn’t schedule any weekday games.

The Wildcats are just 4-5 during the week, and it isn’t a coincidence that those games have all been started by bullpen pitchers.

Arizona may be able to avoid this problem altogether if it continues to ride the three starters throughout the four remaining Pac-12 series.

And if the Wildcats can do that and also take care of ASU and No. 8 Oregon, they should be Pac-12 champions by season’s end.

But the Wildcats will have to be careful, because winning the Pac-12 is only half the battle. If the team wants to have success in the College World Series, it will have to make sure the three starters, especially Heyer, have enough juice when the real challenge begins.

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