Arizona's baseball team head coach Jay Johnson held a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 24, ahead of the Wildcats’ four-game series against Southeastern Louisiana.
Arizona split its season-opening series 2-2 with Ball State last weekend at Hi Corbett Field. After losing two in a row, Arizona was able to salvage the series finale and come away victorious in an 11-5 victory.
After taking only two out of four games this past weekend, Johnson had a simple message for his team going into this weekend's series against Southeastern Louisiana.
“The message is get better,” Johnson said. “We had a unique week where we finished on Monday and started on Thursday. Yesterday we split the off day through the team. We had some guys that needed to pitch and get some at-bats. We worked with some of those guys and had a scrimmage with half the team yesterday.”
Here are some key takeaways from the rest of the press conference.
Johnson looks ahead to Southeastern Louisiana weekend series
Southeastern Louisiana is coming off an impressive season-opening sweep of Mississippi Valley State in which they outscored the Delta Devils 66-0 in three games. They averaged 17 runs per game in their past series.
Johnson offered a lot of praise for Southeastern Louisiana going into their series starting on Thursday, Feb. 25.
“These guys do a lot of things well,” Johnson said. “They have very good speed with the first two hitters in their order and very good team speed throughout. They have some physical guys in the middle that can hurt you. They are very complete and have a really good plan of attack in terms of what they do.”
Going into this four-game set at home, Arizona understands that they cannot afford to take Southeastern Louisiana lightly despite being from a smaller conference.
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Johnson optimistic about Daniel Susac development
Arizona’s opening series against Ball State marked freshman catcher Daniel Susac’s first experience of collegiate ball. He posted a .167 batting average with only 2 hits in 12 at-bats in the four games. However, Johnson was quick to give praise for his young catcher’s defensive performance behind the plate.
“I was very pleased with how Daniel caught this weekend,” Johnson said. “This was his best weekend of handling the pitching staff of any weekend that he’s been here. It was great to see, and he’ll get better as the season goes along. I was really pleased of how well he caught. He does a good job of building rapport with the pitchers.”
Despite Susac’s offensive struggles to start the season, Johnson said he is optimistic that his bat will come around eventually.
“In [Susac’s] case, I do think he’s going to be a good offensive player,” Johnson said. “It’s a process of development. Some of it is coaching, playing time and experience. He’ll take better at-bats as the season goes along.”
Johnson confident in his handling of the bullpen
In Arizona’s two losses against Ball State this past weekend, the bullpen struggled to get out of jams and couldn't pitch out of key situations that might have swayed momentum for the Wildcats and even win those games. Johnson stuck by his strategy for utilizing the bullpen’s usage.
“There’s a couple of guys that can throw multiple times during the weekend,” Johnson said. “They’re older pitchers that are seasoned and have been in tough spots that are in physically good condition. You’ll see those guys in multiple games. It presents some challenges because we don’t want to overtax anybody early in the year. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity to see what we have.”
Johnson also touched on the possibility of how he will manage relief pitchers that have pitched two straight games or more.
“It just depends on the volume, first of all, and the body,” Johnson said. “It’s really depending on the volume, situation and the body. We’ll take all those things into consideration and most importantly what we need to do in the game that is in front of us. If that matches up with the things that I mentioned, then you might see that, and you might not.”
The Wildcats will open their second series of the season against Southeastern Louisiana at Hi Corbett Field starting on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m. MST. The four-game set will conclude on Sunday, Feb. 28, at 10 a.m. MST.
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