The last time we saw Arizona right-hander Konner Wade in a game, he was completing one of the most dominant postseason runs in the history of college baseball.
Now, he has a new pitch.
Wade, a junior, takes the ball tonight for Arizona in its season-opener at Hi Corbett Field. There will be a pregame ceremony to recognize the 2012 College World Series champs, and then Wade and the Wildcats will turn the page by starting 2013 against Coppin State.
Wade rode his sinking fastball to a remarkable postseason — a 4-0 record with a 1.29 ERA and three complete games, walking just three in 35.0 innings. He allowed a mere 27 hits in that span — 24 of them singles.
That fastball was death to right-handed batters, as the pitch dove down and inside, inducing misses or weak ground balls to an unerring left side of the infield.
This season, Wade is hoping to mix in an effective cutter that will tail away from righties and make use of the outside of the plate.
“We call it widening the plate,” said coach Andy Lopez.
“That makes it difficult, because no hitter can cover the whole plate. You have to cover one half or the other. He’s really worked on that. I saw his pen (Tuesday), and I was very pleased with it.”
Having a new pitch should help Wade cope with the ups-and-downs of the season. He sometimes struggled with his control and barely survived at times in 2012, including posting an 8.86 ERA in four starts in May before finding his groove.
“I think it’s just going to help me be more consistent,” he said of the cutter.
“There were games last year when I would have a curve ball or I wouldn’t. It was almost inning to inning. I think this is going to be a better pitch in the long run.”
Wade is a Louisville Slugger second-team preseason All-American and, along with Arizona junior outfielder Johnny Field, is one of 50 on the watch list for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award, given to the nation’s top player.
Wade was 11-3 with a 3.96 ERA last season, completing six of his 19 starts.
Wade inherits the role as the Friday starter from departed Kurt Heyer, a sixth-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s more pressure and bigger stages, but there is no question that Wade can handle both. In Arizona’s pivotal second game of the College World Series — with the winner set up nicely through the rest of the bracket — he threw a five-hit shutout against UCLA.
“He pitched on the highest level a college athlete can pitch at,” Lopez said.
James Farris (7-3, 3.97) — last seen clinching the final game of the College World Series — is the Saturday starter. Mathew Troupe returns as the closer.
Lopez will have to spend the early season finding the right guys for the other roles on the staff. He has plenty of depth to choose from, including returnees Stephen Manthei, Tyler Crawford, Tyler Hale, Nick Cunningham and Augey Bill, as well as a promising freshman class.
“I think our pitching is definitely going to be the strength of our team,” Wade said.