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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “‘As the pitching goes, the program goes'”

    “”Screw the team, the hitters or however they hit.””

    It sounds selfish coming from a pitcher – a senior, no less – but it’s the realistic approach taken by Brad Mills and the rest of the Arizona pitching staff.

    After an on-again, off-again season that saw the offense sputter as the pitching shined, and the offense take off as the pitching fell apart, the hurlers just want to focus on themselves this season.

    “”If we pitch good, no matter how the offense does, we’re going to be fine,”” said the lefty Mills, who will open the season as the team’s No. 3 starter. “”That’s something we’re taking upon ourselves this year.””

    It’s a concept Lopez has worked on instilling in the minds of his pitchers.

    “”What success I’ve tasted at this level has always been based off of pitching,”” said Lopez, who will oversee pitchers again this season with the departure of former pitching coach Andy Diver.

    Minus its expected No. 1 starter, Eric Berger, who was injured last season and will miss the season following surgery to repair a ligament in his throwing arm, the staff found itself searching for a replacement this off season.

    In fall ball, right-hander Ryan Perry had begun to separate himself as a potential No. 1 guy, or even as the team’s closer, but then was involved in a motorcycle accident earlier this month.

    Despite bicep tendonitis that had been bothering him of late, left-hander Daniel Schlereth also made an impression upon Lopez – “”Coming out of the fall, he was our best pitcher,”” the coach said – so much so, in fact that he was named the team’s No. 2 pitcher to start the season just a year removed from a 3-1 freshman campaign in which he lead the team with seven saves.

    But its righty Preston Guilmet, who had established himself as a No. 1-caliber arm toward the end of last season, will toe the mound Friday nights this season for the Wildcats.

    “”There was four or five guys that could very easily be in the rotation, and they’re all going to compete for that spot,”” Lopez said.

    The influx of talent on the mound this season allowed Lopez to move Schlereth into rotation from the bullpen, and leave closing in the hands of right-handed freshman Jason Stoffel, whose fastball has been clocked as high as 93 mph.

    “”Stoffel, he’s a talented young man even though he’s a freshman,”” Lopez said. “”So we’re going to see how he can handle (closing).””

    Inconsistent last season (the group finished dead-last in the Pacific 10 Conference – and 166th nationally – with a 5.41 ERA, yet led the Pac-10 and finished fifth in the nation with 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings), the 2007 version of Lopez’s hurlers are simply seeking to straighten out the curved line that was 2006.

    “”You want to be able to throw those strikes, and don’t give up walks,”” Mills said. “”You (can) give up one hit an inning, even the best college pitchers do that, but it’s when you walk guys and hit guys before that, the one hit ends up killing you.””

    Another point of inconsistency last season for the staff was the irregularity behind the dish. Junior Konrad Schmidt and sophomore Matt Denker – both of whom have since left the program – struggled to control breaking pitches, causing pitchers to hesitate when throwing them, Lopez said.

    “”Usually if you hold back on a breaking ball, it’s in the gap somewhere,”” Lopez said.

    It’s Schmidt and Denker’s replacements – freshman Dwight Childs and Daniel Butler, a redshirt freshman – who could have one of the biggest impacts on Arizona pitching this season.

    “”Dwight has a chance to be as good as any catcher I’ve had defensively, quite candidly,”” Lopez said.

    “”They’re both really good defensive catchers,”” he added later. “”You’ll see them make plays on breaking balls and things that we just didn’t have last year. It was just not there.””

    Still, the coach is encouraging his pitchers not to worry about the hitters, the catchers, or even the way the dirt falls on the mound.

    “”Basically,”” Lopez said, “”what I tell them is: ‘As the pitching goes, the program goes.'””

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