After winning the National Championship in June, Arizona head coach Andy Lopez travelled to the College Baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock, Tex.
While there, he ran into All-American Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, who was expected to leave the Cardinal for the pros after being picked at No. 8 in the first round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I joked with him,” Lopez said. “I said, ‘you’re gonna sign right?’ He kinda smiled.”
A few weeks later, Appel announced he’d be returning to Stanford for his senior year, and now the Wildcats (24-12, 8-7 Pac-12) are set to face Appel in Palo Alto, Calif., at 7:05 p.m. for the opener in a three-game series with the Cardinal. He reportedly turned down an offer of $3.8 million from the Pirates.
“We get the joy of facing him on Friday night,” Lopez said, with a laugh. “Oh lucky us.”
Appel, who was a Baseball America second-team All-American last year, is 6-2 in eight starts this year for Stanford (20-11, 7-5), with a 1.41 ERA. He has more complete games (three) than Arizona’s entire pitching staff (one), and has 78 strikeouts in 63.2 innings of work. ESPN ranks Appel as the No.1 prospect for the 2013 MLB Draft.
Last year, the Wildcats got the better of Appel in an 8-7 win at Hi Corbett Field. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound righty lasted eight innings, but gave up 12 hits and six earned runs.
It’s pretty well-documented by now, though, that the most talented players on last year’s Wildcats team have either graduated or moved on to the Major Leagues. Former staff ace Kurt Heyer will be missed in particular, as he had 11 strikeouts in eight innings and only allowed two earned runs in last year’s matchup.
But the Wildcats are coming into their own of late, after opening Pac-12 play with six straight losses, capped by an impressive come-from-behind nonconference win against ASU on Tuesday.
“We’re hot right now,” said outfielder Scott Kingery. “We’re playing some really good baseball. The ASU game was really sloppy, but we fought back, so we know we can hang around with anyone no matter what the score is. We always know we can come back now.”
That ASU game, where Arizona erased an 8-2 deficit with a 10-9 win, was exemplary of how Pac-12 season has gone for the Wildcats. They started 0-6, but have since won nine of 10 games and are currently in a tied with the Sun Devils for fifth place in the conference.
“Stanford’s always been talented; they have been ever since I was little.” said closer Mat Troupe. “We know that. But we’re Arizona baseball, we’re just as talented. We might even be little more talented. We know what we can do, and we’ve been doing it the last 10 games. We’ll head over to Palo Alto and take care of business.”
Konner Wade (3-3) will take the mound for Arizona today, followed by James Farris (4-3) on Saturday and Tyler Crawford (4-1) Sunday.
Catcher Riley Moore threw a ball to second base during practice in Pullman, Wash., and felt a “little twinge” in his shoulder. Lopez held him out of catching and Moore was the designated hitter against Washington State and then again against ASU on Tuesday. Lopez said he had a cortisone shot on Tuesday and “should be ready for the weekend.”
Second baseman Trent Gilbert has been playing with an injured ankle recently. Lopez said he’s not 100%, but will not miss any time.
Arizona at Stanford
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Palo Alto, Calif.