Arizona baseball seeks momentum in pitchers
Momentum drives baseball. When things are going well, everything goes your way. Balls find gaps and pitches hit the corners with ease.
Arizona has had stretches where it has built up momentum, but was unable to capture it and carry it to the end of the season. With just 13 games remaining, there is no time for inconsistency. If you can’t get it together now, the season is over.
“In February, I was saying the 56-game schedule was a marathon not a sprint,” head coach Andy Lopez said. “Now, with just a few weeks left, you better believe it’s a sprint. There is no more experimentation. The guys we have out there are the guys we are going to win or lose with.”
Arizona (28-14, 9-9 Pac-12) will host its rival No. 8 ASU (28-12-1, 11-7) today for the final non-conference game between the two schools. Though there are no conference implications, a second win over the Sun Devils could only help prompt another late season championship run like in 2012, whereas a loss could be detrimental.
In one of the sloppiest games of the season, the Wildcats came back to defeat ASU 10-9 on April 16 in the only other meeting between the schools this season. The Sun Devils lost the game with poor defense and pitching in the eighth inning. After the four-hour slop fest, Lopez said he was happy the way the Wildcats came back and won, but was furious with his team’s lack of mental toughness for a mid-season game.
That lack of mental toughness carried through to the following weekend series at Stanford. On the road, Arizona lost two out of three to the Cardinal. After the series, many college baseball experts were predicting that the defending champions would be the last team to make the NCAA tournament or not make it at all.
“I don’t care how good our defense is when we allow walks and hit batters,” Lopez said. “Three things a defense can’t defend: a walk, a hit batter and a homerun. And we did all of that.”
The Arizona offense, which now ranks No. 14 in the country, has tried to keep the momentum on its side.
In the last six games, the UA has scored 51 runs. Arizona still lost two of those games, despite scoring eight runs last Sunday and three last Friday against the nation’s top pitcher Mark Appel. Pitching just hasn’t been able to keep Arizona in the game.
“A pitching staff must be mentally tougher than their offense,” Lopez said on Feb. 24.
The 31-year coaching veteran knows what he is talking about. The top four pitching staff in the Pac-12 belong to the top four teams in the conference, while the top offenses in the conference consist of last place teams.
During the week of practice inbetween the Stanford series and this past weekend against Alabama State, Lopez and pitching coach Shaun Cole worked vigorously on the starting pitching staff, which was better this weekend against the Hornets than against the Cardinal.
As of Sunday, Lopez hadn’t named a mid-week starter yet for the Wildcats’ Tuesday matchup against ASU. On April 16, senior Nick Cunningham started but only lasted 2 innings. Freshman Cody Moffet came in for relief of Cunningham and pitched well, but the young arm saw three full innings on Sunday against the Hornets.
Whoever is named the starter will need absolute focus for at least six innings to help carry the momentum the Wildcats currently have after sweeping Alabama State this past weekend.
“It’s go time,” Lopez said. “We can’t afford to slip and it starts with the guy who throws the ball.”