UA BASEBALL

Arizona baseball: Not able to deliver

UA pitching failures became too much of a mound to climb
2013-05-31T00:00:00Z Arizona baseball: Not able to deliverDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Entering the 2013 season, Andy Lopez thought there was at least one certainty about his Arizona Wildcats: They would be able to pitch well.

It was a more than fair assumption.

The Wildcats returned two-thirds of their starting rotation in juniors Konner Wade and James Farris, and sophomore closer Mat Troupe was also back.

Combine those three with a couple of promising freshmen and three seniors in Nick Cunningham, Tyler Hale and Stephen Manthei and the veteran coach expected big things from his staff.

"Everyone, including myself, thought 'they have some older guys back, they should really go out there and be able to pitch the ball well,'" Lopez said this week. "If someone had told me Konner was going to go 5-6 and 2-6 in conference and give up 83 hits in 66 conference innings, I would have said, 'no, that's not going to happen.'"

But it did.

Farris also struggled to follow up his strong sophomore season and Troupe's inconsistency hurt the Wildcats. Cunningham, Hale and Manthei never gave Lopez the quality innings he was hoping for.

The result?

Despite an offense that hit .306 and placed three players on the All-Pac-12 team, the Wildcats went 34-21 overall and 15-15 in the league and missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2009.

"I expected a lot more out of myself than the way I performed and I expected more out of our pitching staff as a whole," Wade said. "I definitely shoulder a lot of that. I wasn't as good of a leader as I should have been.

"We have a lot more talent than we showed this year."

So what happened?

How did such a promising pitching staff not to live up to expectations?

Lopez said there's too many reasons to count and he may never know the exact answer.

"There are some questions that have immediate answers," Lopez said. "Like, 'what time is it?' But a question like, 'why did we struggle?' I don't know that. I may know it in a year, I may not."

His best guesses?

• The expectations from such a solid 2012 season were a lot for the returning pitchers.

• His players aren't paid professionals and sometimes they don't do the expected.

• The pressure of being draft eligible for the first time in the case of Farris and Wade got to them.

• Tangible problems like Wade's fastball and change-up being up in the strike zone and tough luck for other pitchers.

"In no way do I blame anyone for the struggles," Lopez said. "I take full responsibility for the program."

There were a few pleasant surprises for the Wildcats this season, even within the pitching staff.

Sophomore Tyler Crawford went 7-2 with a 3.83 ERA and eventually locked down the Sunday starter role. Senior Augey Bill developed into a weapon out of the bullpen with a 1.98 ERA over 27 1/3 innings.

Freshmen Tyger Talley and Cody Moffett had promising starts to their careers.

Offensively, Brandon Dixon, who was named a third-team Louisville Slugger All-American by Collegiate Baseball on Thursday, was one of the best in the conference. He led the team in batting average (.369), home runs (six), doubles (13), RBIs (51) and stolen bases (30).

Freshman shortstop Kevin Newman also exceeded expectations. He batted .336 with 42 RBIs and was impressive defensively with a .978 fielding percentage.

"The offensive part was pretty special," Lopez said. "We knew he was going to be clean defensively, but, boy, I didn't know his offense was going to be what it was. He was a pleasant, pleasant surprise."

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Arizona's season by the numbers

The bad: Pitching

4.41

The pitching staff's ERA, which ranked ninth out of 11 Pac-12 teams.

.266

The opponents' batting average against the Wildcats, five points higher than the league average of .261.

68

The total of hit batsmen by UA pitchers, third most in the league.

26

The number of triples given up by Arizona pitchers, not helped by cavernous Hi Corbett Field.

The good: Offense

.306

The team's batting average, which was tops in the Pac-12.

368

The amount of runs the UA scored this season, which led the conference.

262

The UA's strikeout total for hitters - the fewest by any offense in the league.

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

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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