Arizona softball pitchers see more batting time
After years of Arizona softball pitchers only playing defense, most of this season’s are batting and even taking up the designated player spot in the order.
Freshman pitcher/designated player Nancy Bowling (4-3) and junior pitcher/designated player Estela Piñon (7-2), two of Arizona’s three-player pitching staff, are batting regularly for head coach Mike Candrea.
“My first thing coming here was I wanted to get a chance to hit and he [Candrea] said, ‘Of course you are,’” Piñon said. “The first time he gave me an opportunity, that was my chance to show him that I can hit as a pitcher, that hey, I’m not just here as a pitcher, but a batter too.”
Piñon has played on offense in 20 games and Bowling has played 17 for the No. 22 Wildcats (20-8). Piñon has been designated player nine times, Bowling eight.
Tyler Baker / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Softball hosted the Wildcat Invitational last weekend and won all of the 5 games that they played, beating UC Riverside, Boston University, and Portland State. They will finish the tournement next weekend.
“I love pitching and hitting,” Piñon said. “If I have a bad inning when I’m pitching, I love hitting, so that I help myself out. I like to help out my team.”
Piñon and Bowling are the first pitchers to regularly bat since Taryne Mowatt graduated in 2007.
“We had quite a few. [Nancy] Evans hit, [Jennie] Finch hit, Taryne Mowatt hit a little bit,” Candrea said. “Yeah, it’s been a while, but not that long ago.”
Evans won national Player of the Year in 1998, Finch won in 2001 and 2002 and Mowatt won two ESPYs in 2007.
Candrea said playing on both sides of the ball helps pitchers.
“It’s tough for a pitcher to do their job and then sit and wait,” Candrea said. “It gives them a chance to be more active and involved in the game and pitchers are used to doing that all their life.”
Piñon has a .225 batting average, two home runs, eight RBI, a .400 slugging percentage and a .354 on-base percentage. Bowling has a .222 batting average, four RBI, a .333 slugging percentage and a .300 on-base percentage.
The two are NCAA rookies; Piñon transferred to the UA from Yavapai College in the NJCAA ranks.
“They’re doing OK — we’re still not quite where we need to be,” Candrea said. “They’re young and they’re doing a great job in [batting practice], but when it comes to game time and the ball’s moving a little bit more, it’s controlling their energies more than anything. But that comes from experience. They just don’t have the database that they need at this point, but we’ll create that.”
Piñon said the NCAA pitchers are very different and have more “movement in the ball.”
“It’s completely different, especially last weekend because we got to face [Oklahoma senior ace] Keilani [Ricketts],” Bowling said. “You’ll face good pitchers in travel ball, but then once you get to college, you see how they adjust with better coaching and all of a sudden … they’re throwing way harder and they’re really good at keeping you off balance.”
Piñon and Bowling are ninth and 10th on the team in batting average, respectively. Piñon is fifth in home runs, seventh in RBI and seventh in on-base percentage.
Piñon said there is pride in being a pitcher/hitter.
“You don’t see a lot of pitchers hitting, especially here at the U of A,” Piñon said.
For the baseball team, Arizona pitchers don’t bat, and their opponents rarely do. But for Candrea it isn’t uncommon for pitchers to bat in softball.
Piñon said pitching is a “big advantage” when it comes to knowing each umpire’s strike zone when she’s at the plate.
“When you’re pitching, you can see how the strike zone is,” Bowling said. “That helps a lot when you’re hitting and you can also tell your team, give them feedback.”
Bowling said pitching helps her batting.
As a pitcher, Piñon has a 3.87 ERA in 63.1 innings, .242 opponent batting average and 65 strike outs. Bowling has a 3.35 ERA in 39.2 innings, .227 opponent batting average and 43 strike outs in the circle.
“It kind of allows you to see like, how it feels as a batter and what kind of throws you off. It allows you to think more like, ‘If I’m hitting, what would be a difficult pitch to handle at this moment?’” Bowling said.
When senior pitcher Kenzie Fowler decided to take a medical redshirt this year, Candrea said he was excited to see her bat as well as pitch healthy next year. She has barely batted in college.
“What I’m looking for is to put our best lineup out there that will give us the best chance to win offensively, and if it’s a pitcher, it’s a pitcher and if it’s not, it’s not,” Candrea said.