Opponents don’t laugh when when they face UA’s strikeout machine
Arizona relief ace Jason Stoffel is a jokester off the field. On the mound, he’s all business.
The right-hander, who set a single-season school record with 13 saves a year ago, flicks sun flower seeds at teammates in the dugout during games. He hides batting helmets under buckets or underneath jackets. He gives teammates a hard time to keep the team loose.
“He’s a blast,” catcher Dwight Childssaid with a laugh.
Opponents aren’t usually laughing when Stoffel pitches, though.
Stoffel has become almost automatic, racking up 18 career saves, one shy of the school record. He could break a tie with Mark Melancon if he picks up a save in Friday’s season opener against Sacramento State at 7 p.m. at Sancet Stadium.
“When he crosses the lines it is game time. It is ‘Hells Bells’ time when he walks into the game,” said Childs, referring to the AC/DC song that has become synonymous with the bullpen entry of Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, a former UA baseball star. “I even think the opponents know the game is over.”
Stoffel is a strikeout machine, whiffing 79 batters in 48 innings a year ago.
The Wildcats shared action between Stoffel and 2008 first round Arizona Diamondback hurler Daniel Schlereth a year ago for the nation’s top closing combination.
This year, Stoffel is a one-man stopper. The plan is for him to pitch at least seven innings a weekend, if required.
“He has a bright future ahead of him,” UA coach Andy Lopez said. “We will use him appropriately.”
Appropriately might mean three innings on a Friday, an inning Saturday and two or three for the series finale on Sunday if needed. What isn’t an option is wasting his arm in blowout games.
“If I bring him in with a big lead, he is very careless and sloppy,” Lopez said. “If you bring him in with a one run lead or the game tied, it is another animal.”
Stoffel has the arm strength and endurance to be a starter, but it isn’t in his makeup.
“I am not a starter,” Stoffel said. “If you are coming in during a pressure situation you have to perform right then and there. You can’t afford to make a mistake. I like that.”
STOFFEL’S PRESEASON HONORS
• Baseball American preseason first-team All-American
• BaseballInsider.com preseason second-team All-American
• Louisville Slugger preseason third-team All-American
• Preseason National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association third-team All-American.
• 2009 Brooks Wallace player of the year watch list.