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Stoffel a jokester except on mound

Opponents don’t laugh when when they face UA’s strikeout machine

Arizona relief pitcher Jason Stoffel is greeted by teammates after a win over ASU in 2008. Stoffel is one save away from the school record.

Arizona relief pitcher Jason Stoffel is greeted by teammates after a win over ASU in 2008. Stoffel is one save away from the school record.

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.

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