There is a lot of optimism around the Arizona baseball team and a lot of that optimism centers around the pitching staff. The Wildcats return a lot of live arms and Head Coach Andy Lopez is thrilled.
The Wildcats are set at the top two spots of the rotation. Kurt Heyer and Kyle Simon anchor the staff. Both had strong seasons last year, and have more expected of them in 2011.
Heyer was a freshman All-American and is a preseason All-American heading into the season, while Simon is a junior who led the team in wins a year ago.
“That’s going to be a real good competition for Pac-10 Friday night starts between those two guys,” Lopez said. “They’ll compete during non-conference games and one will become the No. 1 guy. But it’s possible that all season we will have 1-A and 1-B if both guys pitch up to their abilities.”
Tyler Hale enters the season as the No. 3, Sunday starter but will be challenged by junior Matt Veltman. Hale made a name for himself in the regional at TCU, where he made his first career start and helped lead the Cats past Baylor.
“He’s throwing well,” Lopez said of Hale. “He ahs the ability. He’s a key guy.”
Veltman is a junior who sat out last season, but showed the Wildcat coaches a lot in the preseason.
“He (Veltman) literally pitched himself onto the club again,” said Lopez. “Not only that, but he has pitched well enough that he’s one of our top three or four arms for the starting spots.”
Whoever does not earn the No. 3 spot will move into the bullpen and be the primary set-up man for closer Bryce Bandilla.
Bandilla assumes the closer role this season after sharing the role last season as Lopez experimented with the position.
“He is definitely our closer and that is how we are going to use him,” Lopez said. “That’s what we’ve told him and I know that is what he wants to do.”
Nick Cunningham, Stephen Manthei are experienced right handers, while Augey Bill and Vince Littleman give the Wildcats some lefties who have seen some good action.
Michael Lopez and Matt Chaffee also appear to be key members of the bullpen.