Earlier this season, Arizona Wildcats coach Jay Johnson was asked to compare his new 1-2 hitters, Mitchell Morimoto and Cal Stevenson, to last year’s pesky pair.
Zach Gibbons and Cody Ramer were the offensive catalysts for the national runners-up. Both earned All-America recognition, among other accolades. Gibbons had a .385 average and a .460 on-base percentage; Ramer came in at .348 and .441, respectively.
“Those two were hall of fame,” Johnson said. “I just want these guys to be the best players they can be. If they can bring those things to the table, all the better for us.”
Morimoto and Stevenson are bringing it. They’re finding ways to get on base and get the UA offense going.
The junior-college transfers reached base six times and scored five runs in No. 11 Arizona’s 21-5 victory over Hartford in the first of a three-game series Friday night at Hi Corbett Field. The 21 runs were a season high and marked the seventh time the Wildcats have scored 10 or more.
Morimoto, the left fielder from Mesa Community College, had three hits in five at-bats, giving him a 13-game hitting streak, including 10 multi-hit performances. His batting average and on-base percentage so far are Gibbons-esque: .480 and .574. (Both are right-handed batters; Stevenson and Ramer hit from the left side.)
“I’m not a power guy,” said Morimoto, who tripled Friday and has five extra-base hits among 24 overall. “I’m not trying to hit for the fences. I’m just trying to get on base and do my job.”
Stevenson, the right fielder from Chabot College in Hayward, California, had two hits and drew his 10th walk, which is tied for the team lead. He’s batting .298 with a .433 on-base mark.
“I think they both understand who they are as players,” Johnson said. “They’re very mature offensively. It’s not just the hits. It’s not just the on-base percentage. It seems like every at-bat they both take (pitches), and it helps our team win. That’s what you need out of guys that are going to set the table.”
Sophomore Alfonso Rivas III might be the Ryan Aguilar in this new top-of-the-lineup dynamic. Arizona’s most frequent No. 3 batter went 2 for 3 Friday to lift his season average to .344.
Rivas hit his second career home run, a two-run shot to right in the fourth, but the walks he drew in the second and eighth innings were perhaps more noteworthy. Rivas has walked 10 times in just 46 plate appearances — more than half as many times as he did all of last season (18). As a result, his on-base percentage is a robust .543.
“He’s moving towards (being) a professional hitter,” Johnson said. “Our whole offense is geared around getting as many guys in the lineup who can walk and hit doubles. He’s epitomizing that.”
Arizona bounced back from the worst loss of the Johnson era, a 13-1 setback at Texas Tech on Tuesday. The Wildcats improved to 9-0 at home, where they have outscored opponents 111-44.
This one wasn’t without a couple of bumps. Starter JC Cloney’s streak of 38 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run ended in the top of the first, when Hartford catcher Erik Ostberg hit a mammoth two-run homer to center. The ball bounded off the top of the batters’ eye, which is 392 feet from the plate.
Cloney, who was battling a cold, allowed four runs (three earned) in five innings to improve to 4-0. The senior lefty threw 59 of 76 pitches for strikes. His season ERA is 1.00.
The Wildcats committed a season-high five errors, giving them 23 for the season. It’s the third time this year that they’ve had four or more errors in a game.
“The defense thing is glaring,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to improve. That’s why guys are here; they’re not playing the World Baseball Classic right now. We’ll put some extra time into it.
“I’m an offensive-minded coach. I like working on offense. It’s not that we neglect the defense. We’re just going to make it a high priority, and we’re going to help guys get better.”
- Arizona was 0 for its last 18 with runners in scoring position entering Friday. The Wildcats went 12 for 21 in those situations against the Hawks.
- Hartford lost its fourth in a row to fall to 1-7. The Hawks finished 37-18 last season.
- The series resumes at 2 p.m. Saturday. Sophomore right-hander Michael Flynn (1-0, 1.26) is slated to start for Arizona.