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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Sophomore Wade boosting Arizona’s rotation as Saturday starter

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Ginny Polin
Ginny Polin / Arizona Daily Wildcat Baseball vs Rice

Coming into the season, the Arizona baseball team knew they had a dependable Friday night pitcher in All-American Kurt Heyer, but so far sophomore Konner Wade is proving the Saturday starter can be just as consistent.

“Going into this year we knew that he was probably the number one candidate to be a Saturday guy, so we expected big things from him,” sophomore outfielder Johnny Field said. “And so far he’s lived up to those expectations.”

In his first two starts, Wade is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings pitched. But his 23 strikeouts are even more surprising, considering he had only 28 strikeouts in 61.2 innings last season.

“It’s kind of a surprise to me, I’ve never really been a strikeout guy,” Wade said. “I’d kind of like to get more ground balls to stay in the game a little bit longer. My pitch count’s been getting a little too high.”

Head coach Andy Lopez said a main factor to Wade’s strikeouts is increased movement in his fastball and changeup.

”There is about a three, four inning stretch every time he’s thrown the last few weeks where we don’t call in(side) or out(side), we just call fastball and he throws it and it runs,” Lopez said.

The improved motion on Wade’s pitches hasn’t just resulted in striking out more players though — it’s also kept them off base.

Opponents are currently batting just .184 against Wade this season — an average lower than any other Arizona pitcher.

“I think it’s just the normal development of a young guy that really has high standards,” Lopez said. “(Wade) is a great, great young man, just a dynamite human being. And I think (he) just really wants to get better, and he’s gotten better.”

Wade’s success this season isn’t completely surprising — he had an impressive freshman season, going 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA in eight starts and 17 appearances.

Still, his strides this season have taken him from a talented young starter to someone competing statistically with a Golden Spikes Award nominee in Heyer, and Lopez credits that leap to Wade’s work ethic.

“Everybody talks about those blue-collar (workers),” Lopez said. “I talk about gold-collar guys — guys that if you give them one assignment, they do four. Those are the guys you want in your life, and (Wade) is one of those guys.”

Wade’s early-season success has been even more important for the No. 7 Wildcats because they still haven’t figured out their bullpen.

Juniors Stephen Manthei and Nick Cunningham have struggled in relief this season and were part of a bullpen collapse that ruined Wade’s first start. Wade left a 2-2 game with one out in the eighth inning after a career-high 13 strikeouts, but North Dakota State put six runs on the board in the inning against four different relievers.

The season is still just seven games old for Arizona, and Wade has only been tested against North Dakota State and Auburn — two teams without a very potent offense.

But if Wade can continue at a pace even remotely close to this, the front of the Wildcat’s rotation has a chance to be one of the best in the Pac-12 Conference.

And with the inconsistency the offense and bullpen have shown so far this season, a strong starting rotation is something the Wildcats might have to have if they want to consistently win series in the immensely talented Pac-12.

“Having that one-two punch,” Field said, “(it) gives you a great chance to go out and win the series every time.”

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