Wildcats baseball slows pace to prepare for California series
Slowing the game down was one of the focuses in practice this week for head coach Andy Lopez. The Arizona (18-11, 3-6 Pac-12) baseball team is fresh off a sweep of Utah and begins a three-game series with California (18-13, 5-5) this weekend at Hi Corbett Field.
The Wildcats are a younger and far less experienced team than in the past. They have been forced to rely heavily on “less ripe” and less confident players to produce for the team, whether at the plate or on the mound.
“[Jackson Willeford] is trying to get a nine-run home run,” Lopez said about his freshman designated hitter. “Slow the game down. It’s natural for young guys. There’s a lot on their plate. They just got to be who they are.”
Willeford is just one of eight freshmen or sophomores who have become regulars in Arizona’s lineup, not to mention the four Arizona underclassmen who pitch on a regular basis.
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.
Even though the College World Series run seasoned many of the returning sophomores, Lopez still knows how hard it is for 19- to 20-year-old men to take charge and lead. After being swept by Oregon on the road on March 24, Lopez finally had to step in and take more of a command of his team, as he felt players were stressing too much over last season’s success.
“How many times has someone told somebody, ‘Don’t get behind the wheel of that car because you’ve been drinking,’ and they get behind the wheel and get put in jail?” Lopez said. “So how many times do you tell a guy, ‘Relax. Last year is over; you got to do this year. Relax.’ But, [the response is], ‘No, coach. We got to do it again.’ Yeah, well, maybe you can, maybe you can’t, but that’s why you play every season.”
One Wildcat sophomore who has become a little riper since last season is pitcher Tyler Crawford. The lefty spot starter pitched 4.1 innings last year during Arizona’s 10 postseason games. The then-freshman had four strikeouts, no walks and just one run allowed in the tournament.
Entering 2013, Crawford was in the running for the starting Sunday role. Before last week, Crawford had made four starts this season to go with four appearances out of the bullpen. But following a rough start at Oregon by Sunday starter Cody Moffett, Lopez went with Crawford in game three against Utah, as he’d been consistent out of the pen.
“Crawford was marvelous,” Lopez said following Crawford’s last start against Utah. “He’s going to go next week [against California].”
Crawford went 6.1 innings against the Utes and gave up zero runs with five strikeouts and just five hits. Admittingly, he pitched himself into a few jams, but managed to get out of them, as 11 Utah runners were left on base.
“I can’t get myself into those jams,” Crawford said of his start last week. “I pitched out of trouble a few times, but I need to slow it down a little. There were a few hits and walks I shouldn’t have allowed. [I need to] mostly not play with fire in those big innings and relax.”
Crawford, along with Friday and Saturday starters Konner Wade and James Farris, will face a Golden Bears offense this weekend that ranks sixth in the conference with a .267 batting average, led by catcher Andrew Knapp (.358).
As for the young Arizona offense, it will face a California pitching staff that ranks 10th in the conference. Freshman Ryan Mason, who has a 2.37 ERA and is 4-0 on the season, will most likely open the series for the Golden Bears.
The young Wildcats appeared to start turning the corner last week with a sweep over Utah. However, winning a series over a slightly more challenging opponent in Cal could really relieve the Arizona locker room.
“Every time the younger guys execute, they get [a little more confident],” Lopez said following the sweep. “The guys I want are confident. Thank God it’s a 30-game [conference] season.”