BASEBALL

Arizona baseball notebook: Cats pitchers eat up their day at BP plate

2012-06-19T00:00:00Z 2012-06-19T13:28:45Z Arizona baseball notebook: Cats pitchers eat up their day at BP plateRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 19, 2012 12:00 am  • 

OMAHA, Neb. - Konner Wade's College World Series pitching performance was still fresh Monday afternoon when the Arizona Wildcats' pitchers donned batting helmets, grabbed bats and started hacking.

It's a UA baseball tradition: Anytime the pitching staff throws a shutout, pitchers are allowed to hit in practice.

So what if college baseball's designated-hitter rule keeps them from doing it in games?

"Pitchers' BP is definitely the highlight of our week," Wade said. "Every time we get pitchers' BP, it's a great day."

That made two great days in a row for Wade, who was masterful in Sunday's 4-0 College World Series win over UCLA. The sophomore right-hander pitched a complete-game, five-hit shutout against the Pac-12 co-champions, moving the UA one step closer to a possible national title.

The Wildcats (45-17) will play on Thursday against the winner of today's game between UCLA and Florida State. Arizona must win one of its next two games to advance to the best-of-three championship series.

Back to BP: Coach Andy Lopez has been rewarding his pitching staffs with batting practice for years, the thinking being that all pitchers secretly want to be hitting stars. Starter James Farris is widely considered to be the team's best-hitting pitcher: He cleared the left field wall during Monday's practice at Creighton University in downtown Omaha. Kurt Heyer, a left-handed hitter, split the right-field gap a few times, and Vincent Littleman one-hopped the fence in right.

"They think they're good: That's the sad thing," Lopez said. "They really think they should hit, that it's the National League and I should bat them ninth."

In reality? "They're horrible," Lopez said.

Every once in a while, however, a pitcher surprises somebody. Wade took his hacks left-handed on Monday, then - as his teammates howled - switched to the right side and ripped a few that way.

It wasn't quite "The Natural," but Wade made it work.

"He's not Konner Wade anymore," Lopez said. "He's Roy Hobbs."

An 'A' for the 'D'

The Arizona Wildcats' bullpen was stellar in Game 1 of the College World Series, and Wade dominated Game 2.

The performances had one thing in common: stellar defense.

Arizona committed just one error in its first two College World Series games, best among all teams in its bracket.

And the club's one error was probably the result of a bad call.

Seth Mejias-Brean pulled Brandon Dixon off first base with a wide throw in the sixth inning of Friday night's opener; instant replay showed that Dixon's foot probably stayed on the bag long enough for the runner to be called out. Florida State capitalized, scoring two runs and tying the game before Arizona won it in the 12th inning. The defense was flawless in Sunday night's win over UCLA.

Mejias-Brean knows a reason for the Wildcats' success: their home infield. The UA plays on a hard, fast surface at Hi Corbett Field, meaning they must be ready for infield smashes and bad hops.

High humidity, long grass and a flawless playing surface at TD Ameritrade Park makes fielding easy by comparison.

"It comes off the bat about the same, but you have more time to get to it," Mejias-Brean said. "It slows the game down for us."

Thursday starter up in air

Lopez said he will wait to name a starting pitcher for Thursday's game.

The logical choice for the national semifinal game is Heyer, who pitched well but did not figure in Friday's CWS-opening win over FSU. The Wildcats could also go with Farris, though the Wildcats' usual No. 3 starter hasn't pitched since the NCAA Regionals.

Should Farris pitch and the Wildcats lose Thursday, Heyer would be available to pitch in Friday's elimination game.

Inside pitch

• Second baseman Trent Gilbert made the final heads-up play of the night Sunday, pocketing the game ball after he squeezed the final out. Gilbert gave the souvenir to Wade, who passed it along to his parents.

"It was special," Wade said. "It was nice to go out there and get a win for my team."

• The Wildcats will spend their second of three consecutive off-days by practicing at Creighton and visiting a local children's hospital. Players will have the afternoon off to explore Omaha.

"I told them, 'Go somewhere, do something. You'll look back when you're my age and say, wow, that was a good time in Omaha,' " Lopez said.

• Shortstop Alex Mejia was held out of practice again Monday, but mostly for precautionary reasons. His right ankle is still sore after he took a line drive off his leg Friday.

"If it were up to me, I'd be practicing right now," Mejia said. "They wanted to give me a day off because we have three of them."

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