Starting pitching not yet up to full speed for Wildcats baseball
Pitching wins championships, and in 2012 Kurt Heyer was the engine behind Arizona’s late season run to the fourth national championship in school history.
Heyer was Arizona’s Friday night ace all three years he pitched for Arizona. While a Wildcat, Heyer dominated the strike zone and set the tone for the rest of the series.
In his final season, Heyer went 13-2 and posted a 2.24 earn run average. He struck out 113 batters while only walking 28.
But Heyer is no longer a Wildcat. The sixth round (210th overall) 2012 MLB draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals can’t lead Arizona out of the dugout anymore. In 2013, junior Konner Wade has taken the reins, and he is still getting comfortable in that role.
Carl Miller / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Baseball wins against Texas Tech 6-2 in the first of a two-game series this week. Their second game will take place today at 1pm at Hi Corbett Field.
“I’m still working on my out pitch,” Wade said about his slider. “But it’s a long season, and it’ll get better as I get more command of it.”
Wade, who is similar to Heyer in that he thrives in big game starts, hasn’t played up to his full potential this season. Wade stepped into the spotlight in the 2012 post-season as the number two starter. In the tournament, Wade went 4-0 with a 1.29 earned run average in four starts.
He pitched the first game of the College World Series, and he was a 2013 Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American (2nd team).
However, Wade is still teetering on the edge of success. The right-hander is 2-1 since taking over Heyer’s role and has struggled to keep runners from scoring as he has given up 17 earned runs in 34.2 innings pitched.
The season is still young, but if the Wildcats want to compete in conference play, they will need their new ace and number two pitcher, James Farris (3-2), to keep opposing lineups from scoring early. The Wildcats have a strong enough lineup to stay in many games, but it’s hard for them to get motivated if they’re down early.
“The tone the pitchers set really does affect the offense,” centerfielder Johnny Field said.
Head coach Andy Lopez has always said a pitching staff must be tougher than the offense. As of right now, the offense is carrying the team.
Bullpen outshining starting pitching
Arizona’s starting pitching may be shaky, but its bullpen is far from it. The Wildcats bullpen is deep and has pitched pretty well 23 games into the season.
In its final 11 games leading up the national championship, Arizona’s bullpen mainly consisted of only two pitchers: Then-freshman relief pitcher Tyler Crawford and closer Mathew Troupe. But now, senior Augey Bill and freshman Tyger Talley have joined the bullpen and have proven to Lopez that they can be trusted to hold a lead.
The four bullpen pitchers have a combined record of 7-1 with the one loss coming in a Crawford start on Feb. 26 against Utah Valley. Even more impressive, the late inning Wildcats have only given up 14 runs in 68.3 innings of work. They also strike out 3.2 batters for every walk.
Troupe proved himself as a closer at the end of 2012, only giving up one earned run in his final 13.2 innings of work. He also led all Arizona relievers with 44 strikeouts throughout the season, and he’s carried over that success. The fulltime closer is a perfect 2-0 in save opportunities but has made 10 appearances.
“[Troupe] has been consistent for us this year, and we have a lot of confidence giving him the ball in the eighth and ninth innings,” Lopez said. “But we still need him to keep his walks down.”
Troupe is second on the team in strikeouts (24), only second to starting pitcher Farris (30) who has pitched more than twice as many innings as Troupe.
Troupe is on his way to being an all-conference player coming out of the bullpen, but in order for him to do his job as a closer, the Wildcats will need to get to him with a lead. So it falls on the shoulders of the starters and fellow relievers to do their jobs, because if they can get the ball into the sophomore’s hands, it’s almost for sure lights-out.