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Wildcats pitching staff ready for fresh start

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Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics | The Daily Wildcat Arizona Wildcats baseball 10/11/19 in Tucson, Ariz.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who knows more about pitching than him.”

Those were the words of sophomore pitcher Quinn Flanagan when asked about working with new pitching coach Nate Yeskie.

“He does a really good job personalizing each guy’s program,” Flanagan said. “One thing might work for one guy and another thing might work for another guy, so he does a good job of getting to know each pitcher’s skill set.”

This seems to be the consensus for the Wildcats this offseason, who are motivated to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. The path back starts with the overhaul of the pitching staff that struggled mightily all last season and will be a key factor in whether Arizona is able to reach the postseason for the first time since 2017. 

This overhaul begins with this incoming freshman class, which will see several pitchers make an immediate impact at Hi Corbett Field this season. 

“There’s certainly going to be some,” head coach Jay Johnson said when asked how many of these freshman pitchers we can expect to make an impact on the mound this season. “I think when you look at the offset with Dawson Netz, Chandler Murphy — Wesley Scott has tremendous stuff as well. I think those three will help; how quickly they do it will be how they learn to stay in their plan of what makes them successful and keep the game the same and slow.”

Johnson reiterated that it isn’t just about these freshmen, but rather their competitiveness, ability to slow the game down and using the rest of the team to help them be successful. 

The pitching staff knows what the offense did last year and realize what they need to do to be successful playing with one of the best offenses in the country. 

“I mean, coach Yeskie was brought in at the very beginning of the year,” Flanagan said. “He kind of put some emphasis on, ‘It doesn’t really matter what’s going on offensively. We’re going to try to be the best pitching staff we can be. If we stay with that, it doesn’t matter if our offense is scoring ten runs a game. We want to give up zero.’”

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The biggest name to keep an eye on this season for this Wildcats pitching staff will be senior Vince Vannelle.

“Pitch important innings when the game is in the balance,” Johnson said when asked what he envisions Vannelle’s role will be this season. “He could end up starting at times, could end up being in in the fifth inning where we need to swing the momentum, because he pitches with great tempo, great strike zone pressure and he can change speeds and has legitimate out pitches as weapons.”

Johnson later said he believes the team plays better when Vannelle is on the mound. He also hinted toward the senior closing out some games at the end of the season. 

“I mean, every inning is important,” Vannelle said. “You saw last year, anything can happen, but, like, this year we definitely feel like no matter what, we’re leaving it all on the table. We’re going to go and compete every out and every pitch.”

Vannelle appeared in 26 games last season, making one start as he pitched to a 3.47 ERA with 2 saves and 27 strikeouts across 36 1/3 innings. He finished the year on a high note, posting a 2.08 ERA across his final eight appearances, and looks to carry that momentum into this season, as Johnson looks to rely on him in different situations throughout the season. 

“I’ve discussed with coach Yeskie and coach Johnson that I will probably be used in different situations this year that he feels that the team needs and I’m all for it,” Vannelle said at Tuesday’s media day. “I literally told them I don’t care as long as we win games. If we need somebody to start on a Sunday or Monday, I’ll be in there. If you need somebody to close out a game or if you need somebody in the fourth or fifth inning when something happens, I’m all for it.”

Vannelle was the only pitcher to record an ERA under 4.50 last season. He pitched three-plus innings in three separate occasions last season and is ready to pitch as many innings as he needs to pitch to help this ball club win.  

“Most of the issues that came last year with, let’s say, high pitch counts and three or four innings was because I was struggling to get lefty’s out earlier in counts because I would usually just attack them with my fastball and curveball,” Vannelle said. “Coach Yeskie has really helped me with my changeup and really softening it up to hitters and just trying to really locate it rather than trying to, like, throw the best pitch that I can. It’s all about locating and getting hitters off their timing. That’s really it.”

Despite being one of four seniors on this University of Arizona roster and one of the most experienced pitchers on this Wildcats pitching staff, Vannelle still understands he has room for improvement. 

“It’s definitely been useful in the fall and I’m constantly working to get everything better,” Vannelle said. “Anything they ask me, I’ll gladly do it.”


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