Cody Deason will start the Arizona Wildcats’ opener Friday night. The junior right-hander is better prepared, mentally and physically, than at this time a year ago.
Coming off a promising freshman season, Deason entered 2017 hoping to secure a spot in the rotation. He made his first appearance in relief in Arizona’s second game and got rocked. Deason allowed six runs in two-thirds of an inning.
It took him a good chunk of the season to win back the trust of UA coach Jay Johnson and pitching coach Dave Lawn. Now Deason has it completely.
“It’s all mindset,” said Johnson, whose team faces Bryant University in Rhode Island at 6 p.m. at Hi Corbett Field. “It’s a fine line between being really ready to pitch and maybe just kind of OK. He’s really respected what it takes to be good.”
Johnson credits Deason’s development to the maturity that only can come from experience. It helped that some of it was bad.
Deason didn’t face much adversity as a freshman. He mostly pitched out of the bullpen. He excelled in three postseason appearances. He finished with a 3.73 ERA in 31ª innings.
Then came last season’s start. Through his first three outings, Deason had an ERA of 18.00.
“I feel like I did a lot of learning,” Deason said Tuesday. “I realized that this game’s a lot of failure. You’re going to fail on a daily basis. You have to overcome it. And I did.”
He met with his coaches, and they put together a plan for the rest of the season. Over his next 10 outings, covering 16ª innings, Deason was not charged with an earned run.
Most of the middle portion of his sophomore season brought promising results. In 20 appearances between his first and last outings, Deason had a 1.79 ERA. In the other two, including a season-ending loss against Sam Houston State in the NCAA Tournament, it was 50.21.
The goal this year is consistency over the long haul — from pitch to pitch, from inning to inning and from game to game. To that end, Deason overhauled his body, a process that began midway through last season.
Deason changed his diet — out: Big Macs; in: broccoli — and reduced his body fat from 14 percent to 10 percent. He converted 10 to 15 pounds of fat into muscle and currently checks in at 6-3, 208 pounds. He says UA strength coach Jim Krumpos “is a big reason I am the pitcher I am today.”
Stuff never has been an issue. Deason’s fastball tops 95 mph. He has a sharp-breaking curveball and an improved changeup.
“It’s hard to get that type of arm strength to college nowadays,” said Johnson, who added Deason in the summer of 2015 after Oregon dropped him. “The breaking ball and changeup have emerged as really good pitches. To get through an order more than one time, you have to have three pitches. I think he can do that.”
Deason is capable of dominating. He posted a 1.01 ERA in the Cape Cod League last summer. Pitching out of the bullpen for the Orleans Firebirds, Deason allowed 13 hits and struck out 40 in 26º innings. He did not allow an earned run in 13 of 14 appearances.
He enters 2018 providing what Johnson described as “my best peace of mind.” It’s a long way from where Deason began 2017.
“I’ve been working for it ever since I’ve gotten here,” Deason said of his opening night assignment. “That’s what you want to be when you think of college baseball — the Friday-night arm. The thing I’m trying to work on is to maintain it the whole way through.”
UA picked 4th in Pac-12
Pac-12 coaches predicted Arizona to finish fourth in the conference in their annual poll released Monday. The top five — Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona, Cal — were in sync with D1Baseball.com’s projection for the league.
The coaches’ success rate in forecasting the conference varied wildly during Johnson’s first two seasons.
In 2016, the top three finishers were Utah, Washington and Arizona. The coaches picked them to finish 11th, eighth and ninth, respectively.
In 2017, the coaches picked Oregon State and Stanford to finish 1-2, which is exactly how it played out. They had Arizona third; the Wildcats finished fourth.
Oregon State received 10 of 11 first-place votes in this year’s poll. Stanford received the other, which came from OSU coach Pat Casey. Coaches are not allowed to pick their own teams to finish first.
The Beavers are ranked second nationally by Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today (coaches poll) and the NCBWA. They visit Arizona from April 6-8.
Stanford and UCLA also appear in each of those preseason polls. They are the only other Pac-12 teams to crack the top 25.
- Transfer Travis Moniot is slated to start at shortstop, Johnson said. Moniot has had a strong camp after being slowed by a hamstring injury in the fall.
- The DH spot is somewhat up in the air. One name to keep an eye on is Michael Benson, another transfer. Benson on Tuesday was cleared from a concussion suffered when he was hit by a pitch earlier in camp.
- Johnson said the Wildcats’ pitching has been “a pleasant surprise” so far. It could be aided by the UA’s defense. “I think this has the chance to be the best defensive team we’ve had since I’ve been the coach here,” said Johnson, who’s entering his third season.
- Bryant is the consensus pick to win the Northeast Conference. The Bulldogs have won the NEC regular-season championship the past six seasons.
- Bryant junior left-hander Steve Theetge is the reigning NEC Pitcher of the Year and is expected to start Friday. He went 8-5 with a 3.86 ERA last season.
- The Bulldogs are slated to throw three lefties at the Wildcats. Arizona went 14-12 against left-handers in 2017, 24-9 against righties.