Arizona pitching coach Dave Lawn was discussing the Wildcats’ staff the other day when he pointed out one of its strengths.
“The one thing we don’t do is, we don’t walk people,” Lawn said. “Now, who knows – we might walk a million this weekend against Utah.”
Lawn’s hyperbole proved prescient. Arizona’s pitchers couldn’t find the plate in the series opener against the Utes on Thursday. As a result, the Wildcats couldn’t find the win column.
No. 6 Arizona dropped Game 1 of a home series for the second week in a row, falling to Utah 12-5 in front of an announced crowd of 2,749 at Hi Corbett Field. It was the Wildcats’ fourth loss in a row to the Utes under Jay Johnson after a sweep last year in Salt Lake City.
The defeat was just the second of the season at home for Arizona, which responded to last Thursday’s loss against Oregon by winning the next two games to take the series. The Wildcats (26-10, 9-7 Pac-12) will be hoping for a similar bounce-back in Game 2 of this series Friday, when JC Cloney – a noted control artist – is expected to start.
Fellow left-hander Randy Labaut got the starting assignment Thursday and worked out of trouble in the first inning. His control abandoned him in the second, setting the tone for a long, untidy evening.
Four Arizona pitchers combined for eight walks (three intentional) through 5 2/3 innings – uncharacteristic for a staff that had averaged 3.2 per nine innings entering Thursday. By the time Juan Aguilera entered the game and ended the top of the sixth with a strikeout, the Wildcats trailed 8-4. In all, Arizona walked a season-high nine batters.
"You’re going to start and end on the mound," Johnson said. "We didn’t get a very good pitching performance tonight by probably anybody. That’s what tonight was. I wouldn’t say it was a bad game. I would say we didn’t pitch great, and it was a good enough team to take advantage of it."
The Wildcats didn’t have a midweek game this week, and this contest quickly devolved into one, with Johnson desperately searching for someone who could throw strikes and get outs. After their scoreless first inning, the Utes scored in each of the next seven frames.
The Wildcats entered the second half of Pac-12 play with some lingering questions about their pitching staff. Those questions remained unanswered through Thursday.
Johnson had insisted earlier in the week that Utah (15-17, 6-10) was better than its record suggested.
“They are one of the best offenses we’ve played for sure,” Johnson said.
The Utes also have been the victims of some bad late-inning luck.
Like Arizona, Utah suffered two walk-off losses in the course of being swept at No. 1 Oregon State. The Utes, who won the Pac-12 regular-season title last year, also have suffered come-from-ahead, late-inning defeats against Washington, Stanford and Cal.
Thursday’s game started promisingly for Arizona. Alfonso Rivas clubbed a solo home run to right in the bottom of the first. It was the Wildcats’ first first-inning home run of the season at Hi Corbett and the seventh straight time Rivas had reached base.
By the time Cal Stevenson followed with a solo homer to right of his own in the bottom of the third, Utah had five walks in the books and three runs on the board.
- JJ Matijevic’s bloop double in the fifth inning gave him 52 for his career, tying him with Trevor Crowe for 10th all-time at Arizona.
- Freshman Nick Quintana’s second-inning walk extended his on-base streak to 25 games.
- The Wildcats lost for the first time this season when committing two or more errors. They had been 11-0 when making two or more.
- Softball coach Mike Candrea threw out the first pitch and received a standing ovation from the crowd and the Wildcats dugout. The UA softball team hosts Oregon in a matchup of top-10 teams this weekend.
- Arizona will provide free shuttle service to Hi Corbett from El Con Mall on Friday and Saturday, starting one hour before each game.