For the first time in his life, Konner Wade couldn't get hitters out consistently.

It was the middle of the 2012 season and Pac-12 teams were seemingly taking their turn beating up the Arizona Wildcats starter.

Utah, 15 games under .500 at the time, got him for five runs. A week later, UCLA knocked him out after three innings, 10 hits and five earned runs. USC and Arizona State roughed Wade up, too, handling him - and the Wildcats - losses later in the season.

"I've never really been hit like that before," Wade said. "That was a first. It was tough at times, but every baseball player needs to go through that."

It wasn't fun, but it was necessary.

Wade will get the ball Friday night in the Wildcats' season opener against Coppin State and should toe the rubber every Friday night after that. He was the Wildcats' best pitcher during last summer's run to a College World Series championship.

Before that, though, he was humbled.

"We're dealing with young guys and they are going to have bumps in the road at some point," pitching coach Shaun Cole said. "For me, the best way to handle that is don't freak out and treat them the same.

"There were some mechanical things, but it was more mental than anything."

So Cole and Wade went to work.

They talked about throwing through the catcher's mitt. They talked about keeping his front side closed when he delivered a pitch, so it didn't sail on him. But they focused most on having fun and getting back to the reliable, solid pitcher he was in his first year and a half with the program.

Wade responded well to the impromptu therapy sessions.

He was 4-0 in four postseason starts, sporting a 1.29 ERA. He hurled two complete games at the College World Series, including a shutout of the same Bruins team that teed off on him two months earlier.

He looked like an ace - like a Friday-night starter.

Wade went 11-3 in 19 starts with six complete games as a sophomore. He had a 3.96 ERA and struck out 105 batters in 136 1/3 innings.

He did all that as the team's No. 2 starter behind Kurt Heyer.

Heyer's gone now - the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in June's MLB draft - and the Friday-night role is all Wade's. The junior projects as the team's best starter and a prime prospect for this spring's amateur draft.

"Logically, he should be able to reflect in the rearview mirror and say, 'Hey, I should be pretty good,'" coach Andy Lopez said. "He did stuff in the postseason that hasn't been done in a long time."

Of course, the No. 1 spot comes with responsibility.

Heyer's outgoing and energetic demeanor demanded respect. Wade, a Scottsdale Chaparral High School product, is quieter. Cole said he doesn't want Wade to change his personality or to try to be Heyer.

Wade can lead the staff with his arm, not his mouth.

"Coach Lopez always says the Friday-night guy is like the CEO," Cole said. "He needs to go out and be a leader. He leads by example. You do that by pounding the strike zone and going long into games and not getting into our pen."

Wade has added a slider to his repertoire to go with his above-average fastball and changeup. His fastball sits around 88-91 miles per hour, and the changeup isn't far off from that. Coaches are hoping the slider will help keep hitters off balance and add a new wrinkle to Wade's scouting report.

"I've been waiting for this for a while," Wade said. "I've always been behind Kurt. He's a great pitcher, but I think everybody wants to be in that spot that everyone is looking at, to be a leader.

"I'm going to try to do that for us this year."

Up next

• Who: Coppin State at Arizona, season opener

• When: 6 p.m. Friday

• Where: Hi Corbett Field

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk.