Arizona: Lean times at plate made for tough year to swallow

2011-06-10T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T19:10:31Z Arizona: Lean times at plate made for tough year to swallowBy Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 10, 2011 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona Wildcats played five games in their five-day trek through the NCAA baseball regionals.

Only once, in Sunday's 7-4 win over Texas A&M, did both teams actually score. The rest of the games were shutouts, either in the Wildcats' favor or against them.

Coach Andy Lopez howled when asked if had ever seen anything like it.

"In a regional? In college baseball?" Lopez said. "Never."

New NCAA-mandated bats did more than just make college baseball safer in 2011. They changed the sport for good.

The result was a mixed bag for the UA, which went 39-21 and advanced to the College Station Regional before being eliminated Tuesday by host Texas A&M.

While the UA's pitchers enjoyed their best season since the Ford administration, its hitters were bamboozled by a new brand of baseball that puts a premium on speed and timely hitting, instead of power.

Consider: Arizona was shut out four times this season, including three times in its final 11 games and twice in the regional. The UA lost 4-0 to Seton Hall in its regional opener and, after winning three straight elimination games, was blanked by A&M 3-0. The Wildcats' run totals in those final 11 games read 0, 7, 1, 9, 6, 8, 0, 13, 6, 7 and 0.

Arizona's two best hitters heading into the season, catcher Jett Bandy and outfielder Steve Selsky, combined to hit three home runs. The UA hit just 29 as a team, six fewer than their 2010 total.

Lopez said his team's offensive inconsistency can't be blamed entirely on the bats; the UA finished first in the Pac-10 in most offensive categories, but often appeared and vanished like a summer thunderstorm.

"That bat is here to stay," Lopez said. "That's something we all have to come to grips with. For me and what I believe in - pitching and defense - I'm OK with it."

Arizona's pitching staff, meanwhile, benefited from the changes. The Wildcats posted a 3.57 team ERA, their lowest mark 1976, and allowed the fewest hits (495) and runs (241) since 1978. Their total of seven complete games this season had not been matched since 1995.

Much of Arizona's success can be traced to its two star pitchers. Kyle Simon posted an 11-3 record with a 2.72 ERA, while Kurt Heyer (8-5, 2.41) was a capable No. 1 starter. Combined, they struck out nearly six times as many batters (220) as they walked (37). The pitching staff threw more strikes, Lopez said, because it knew hitters couldn't punish them with extra-base hits and home runs.

"I'm really proud that our staff figured that out, and you saw it in College Station: Just throw strikes," he said. "That's big."

And while the Wildcats figure to be solid again in 2012, Lopez and a handful of his players privately felt like the 2011 season was an opportunity squandered.

The UA had enough pitching to advance to the College World Series, but was done in by bad luck.

And, maybe, the bats.

"This is going to be something I live with for a while," Lopez said. "A couple of guys said it when they got into their (postseason) meetings with me: 'How the heck did we get shut out twice in the regionals?' "

Inside pitch

• Lopez said he expects most of the UA's drafted players to sign pro contracts this summer, meaning Simon (Orioles), fellow pitchers Bryce Bandilla (Giants) and Matt Chaffee (Braves), catcher Bandy (Angels), infielders Cole Frenzel (Mets) and Andy Burns (Blue Jays), and outfielder Selsky (Reds) may not return next year.

Burns and Selsky are reportedly looking for fifth-round-or-better money, meaning they could possibly return.

• Two incoming freshmen, right-hander Matt Troupe and left-hander Austin Malinowski, could solve Arizona's pitching woes if they choose to attend. The Twins took Malinowski, a Minnesota native, with their 16th-round pick. The Yankees selected Troupe, a senior from Los Angeles, in the 17th round.

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

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