Serving Youth: Arizona Baseball’s freshman closer tested before challenging weekby Scott Terrell on Mar. 12, 2012, under Sports
The Arizona Wildcats baseball team (13-2) played five games over the past week and won them all. Three would qualify as easy victories but two were struggles.
It is in the struggles that the team may be finding the piece to fill its biggest hole.
The UA’s starting pitching remains strong even with Konner Wade turning in his first rough outing of the season on Saturday. The Wildcat bats are more than awake with a .343 team average. The top four hitters in the lineup are all producing an OPS above .900 and the bottom half of the order is starting to catch up.
“The bottom of the lineup is picking it up a little bit,” shortshop Alex Mejia said. “Guys are just feeling more comfortable as the games go on.”
Freshman second baseman Trent Gilbert said, “It was just a matter of time before we started putting it together. [The lineup has] good balance now and we want to keep it that way.”
The bullpen was the big question mark at the beginning of the season and, while the UA relievers aren’t dominating, new faces and young arms are getting experience that should pay dividends as the games get bigger.
Freshman Mathew Troupe gave up the go-ahead run on both Wednesday and Sunday but kept his composure and recorded big strikeouts to allow Arizona to rally. Getting innings in a blowout can’t compare to making pressure-packed pitches with the game on the line, and the ability to bounce back from adversity is something every reliever needs.
That said, the warm-up games are over. Nick Cunningham was ineffective in his first two appearances of the season and hasn’t pitched since. The first time Troupe faces a save situation in Pac-12 play he’ll have to deliver or the Cats’ hunt for a reliable closer will continue.
Next up is a week of firsts. Tuesday and Wednesday are the team’s first road games as well as the first matchup with a ranked opponent in top-10 Rice.
“It’s really exciting to play against a top ranked team any time,” Mejia said, “so we’re all looking forward to that.”
Two days after the Rice series Washington State comes to town to start the conference season and the competition this year will be fierce.
“I like the fact that we’re going into some really good competition,” UA coach Andy Lopez said. “The Pac-12 is good. Everybody’s good. And you know what? We’re not bad either.”
Starting Tuesday, the Cats will have plenty of opportunities to prove it.
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