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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona baseball searching for bullpen depth as it takes on Utah Valley

Amy+Webb+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0ATeams+Alpha+Sig+and+Frat+Stars+participate+in+Chi+Omegas+flag+football+tournament+that+was+held+Sunday+April+1st+on+the+UA+mall.++The+tournament+was+held+to+raise+money+for+the+Make+A+Wish+Foundation.++%0A%0A
Amy Webb
Amy Webb / Arizona Daily Wildcat Teams Alpha Sig and Frat Stars participate in Chi Omega’s flag football tournament that was held Sunday April 1st on the UA mall. The tournament was held to raise money for the Make A Wish Foundation.

The No. 4 Arizona baseball team returns to the field tonight in Orem, Utah, to take on Utah Valley (12-11) for the second time this season, and head coach Andy Lopez will have to do something he’s avoided for six games now — use the middle of his bullpen.

“When we go to the middle part of the pen, it’ll be a concern until the day I put this season away,” Lopez said.

Since the Wildcats were swept at home in a two-game series against New Mexico State, Lopez has only used his three starters and the two closing relievers — Stephen Manthei and Mathew Troupe.

And in the small sample size, the strategy has worked.

The Wildcats (21-7, 7-2 Pac-12) are 5-1 over the stretch with wins on the road at No. 20 Oregon State and a sweep against then-No. 2 Stanford.

The Wildcats’ three starters — Kurt Heyer, Konner Wade and James Farris — all threw more than eight innings this past weekend and Wade and Farris threw complete games. Manthei was the only bullpen pitcher to face the Stanford lineup in the single inning he pitched Friday.

“My concern (coming into the season) was the middle part of the pen,” Lopez said, “but if the starters do what they’re doing, then you don’t see the middle part of the pen.”

But for the midweek game tonight, Lopez won’t have that luxury, and instead he will have to rely on someone from the middle of the rotation to start.

The Wildcats have already played the Wolverines once this season — winning 12-6 at home — and it was a perfect example of Lopez’s concerns.

Starter Tyler Hale was shaky from the get-go, surrendering seven hits and four earned runs through just 2.1 innings before he was pulled for freshman Lucas Long.

Long allowed two earned runs and four hits in five innings, giving him his first ever win as the Wildcats rebounded from an early 5-1 hole.

But Long (2-2) hasn’t been able to sustain that level of play as of late, and he is one of several pitchers who Lopez is avoiding.

Long’s 6.56 ERA is now the second worst on the team, but the remainder of the bullpen isn’t much better.

None of the relievers have an ERA lower than a 4.50 and the five middle relievers have combined for a WHIP of 1.77, which is considered very poor.

Lopez said the state of the bullpen is reflected in the fact that the team has signed 12 pitchers in the upcoming recruiting class.

“Here’s the reality of it,” Lopez said. “You get to know your club the longer you play (in a season), one way or another.”

Impressive starting pitching

While there is a lack of confidence in the bullpen, last weekend’s series against Stanford showed it might not be a major problem during the typical weekend schedule.

Wade’s performance earned him Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honors as he allowed just three hits and struck out seven in the series, clinching a 4-2 victory.

“That kid, day in and day out, he’s just a phenomenal player,” junior Alex Mejia said. “Every time you go out there, you know you have a chance to win.”

But choosing which pitcher had the best weekend was tough even for Lopez.

Wade was his initial response, but there were compelling arguments for the other two starters as well.

Heyer was matched up against the potential No. 1 pick in June’s MLB Draft in Mark Appel and only gave up two earned runs with 11 strikeouts.

Farris had some impressive stats of his own. The sophomore retired 14 straight batters at one point and didn’t walk a single batter or allow a single leadoff man on base.

Farris said after the game on Sunday that it’s really starting to become a competition between the three starters for who can perform the best and get the most wins before season’s end.

And Farris acknowledged that he is prepared to pitch the entire game, and it’s his goal every time he steps on the mound.

“I like to give the bullpen some rest too,” Farris added, “because they throw a lot and it helps them out.”

Freshman Tyler Crawford will start tonight against Utah Valley.

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