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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Chaffee emerging as bullpen’s best

Annie Marum / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Baseball vs Cal Double Header
Annie Marum
Annie Marum / Arizona Daily Wildcat Baseball vs Cal Double Header

A mirror sits outside of Arizona closer Matt Chaffee’s bathroom. Several times a day, the left-hander will stand in front of it and practice his dry work.

He’ll keep his balance in check, making sure that his front side stays close, and that he delivers the pitch out in front of the ball.

It’s been a semester-long routine, and head coach Andy Lopez has one word to describe it: Discipline.

“”I say this all the time, I read it somewhere so I wish I could give credit where credit is due,”” Lopez said. “”But a man with no discipline has problems, a man with some discipline has some problems, a man with discipline, he’s got no problems, but he’s got a lot of challenges.””

Chaffee has certainly overcome his challenges, and the dedication he displays to the team on a day-to-day basis is an example of the player and the person that Chaffee has evolved into during his topsy-turvy career as an Arizona pitcher.

As a freshman in 2008, Chaffee came to the UA fresh off of two Arizona Division I high school state championship appearances, winning it his junior year at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix.

His first go-around with the Wildcats was marked by 14 lackluster appearances that would be expected out of the raw skill of a freshman.

Chaffee kept working and entered his sophomore season as a crucial part of the Arizona bullpen, earning three quick wins to start the season.

His successes were quickly struck down, however, when a shoulder injury requiring immediate surgery sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Unfortunately for Chaffee, the injury bug bit him, and it didn’t quit.

After making one appearance the next season, Chaffee broke his right ankle in car accident, again needing surgery, and again having to forfeit the season.

Looking back on it, Chaffee recalls the anguish that he went through, before realizing that there was only one thing to do.

“”I could either be down about it, or I could get over it and overcome it and be better,”” he said. “”It’s what I went through everyday.””

He decided to get over it, get healthy and get better.

As fall practice rolled around last year, his injury-plagued career kept Chaffee’s name off of the bullpen contender list.

“”I said this to my staff after we played New Mexico, I said ‘Fellas, when we had staff meetings at the end of every fall week, where was Chaffee?'”” Lopez said.

“”And I said this to him as well,”” Lopez continued. “”‘I’m proud of you, what a joy, you have made yourself a college pitcher,’ and he has. It’s kind of sweet.””

His story is a motivator and he is an inspiration to his team, the coaching staff and anyone who talks to him.

“”As the season started, he came in and I was like, ‘Wow, look at this guy, where’d he come from?'”” said Arizona catcher Jett Bandy. “”All of the sudden he’s become our guy. He’s legit.””

Lopez also uses Chaffee as a daily example of the level of work he would like to see in his clubhouse.

“”Coach Lopez said, ‘That’s just him beating the game right there, that’s just him out working the game off the field,'”” Bandy said. “”It’s just awesome.””

Not only does his work ethic bring motivation to his team, Chaffee’s dedication is most evident when he steps on the mound. Since assuming the role, Chaffee has been lights out, and is the most consistent pitcher out of the Arizona bullpen.

So far this season he’s holding a 4-1 record with 39 strikeouts to his name.

Perhaps his best outing came this past weekend when, in the first game of the Sunday double-header, the bases were loaded in the bottom of the eighth with the Wildcats leading 9-8 and Chaffee struck out two in a row to end the inning.

He followed that half inning with two more strikeouts in the ninth to secure the save and propel Arizona to its first Pacific 10 Conference series win of the season.

Despite falling under the team’s radar just six months ago, Lopez said that Chaffee’s summer will get busy quickly as he will be on the radar of some major league clubs.

“”When you have a chance to really work on your mechanics, to the point where it becomes second nature to you, maybe this past fall, in the weight room, in front of a mirror, all those little things,”” Lopez said, “”Chaffee’s the other side of it, he’s a guy that has said ‘I’m going to make myself a college pitcher’ and he has.””

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