Arizona Baseball

Lopez: 'I have to fix' issues that torpedoed Cats' once-promising season

2014-05-28T00:00:00Z Lopez: 'I have to fix' issues that torpedoed Cats' once-promising seasonBy Daniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

During the last six weeks of the season, UA coach Andy Lopez started making a list.

It wasn’t a positive one.

The veteran coach would make a note every time he saw something he didn’t like from a club that finished 22-33. The list ranged from poor bunt execution to the length of his players’ hair.

His plan was to acknowledge everything that was bugging him while the season was wasting away and then go over it one by one with his team as soon as the year concluded.

So on Sunday after Arizona’s 14-1 season-ending win over Abilene Christian, Lopez gathered all the returning players in the home clubhouse of Hi Corbett Field and went over it with them.

“There were a lot of things I saw this year that were foreign to me. Completely foreign to me,” Lopez said Sunday. “So I need to cover a lot. I’m starting fresh right now.

“I have to fix it.”

Where does he start?

Pitching, pitching, pitching.

The Wildcats finished second to last in the Pac-12 with a team ERA of 4.49. The staff gave up 522 hits in 494⅔ innings and allowed opposing teams to hit .274.

The Wildcats’ ERA was the worst since they posted a 4.54 mark in 2010, and the team’s 345 strikeouts were the fewest by a Lopez-led pitching staff since his first season at the UA in 2002.

Worse, Arizona loses its most effective starter — James Farris — and could have two of the three rotation spots to fill if Cody Hamlin signs with a team after next month’s Major League Baseball draft.

Offensively, Arizona was average.

The Wildcats tied for second in the Pac-12 with a .280 team batting average but tied for last with just eight home runs. Despite the high batting average, Lopez’s team often struggled hitting with two outs and with runners on base.

While numbers surely matter, the coach’s main focus before the start of the 2015 season is to address some of the intangibles that lacked this season. Leadership, maturity and competitiveness are on the top of that list.

“I think this season was pretty challenging,” junior outfielder Tyler Krause said. “I think some players handled it really well, others didn’t. It was a mixture.”

Lopez’s desire is to not have mixed results next season.

“I want everyone to understand what we’ve done here the past 13 years,” the coach said.

Here’s a look at what the pitching and offense could look like in 2015.

Pitching

Hamlin went 5-5 with a 3.94 ERA and 2-3 with a 4.78 mark in Pac-12 play. The redshirt sophomore, who transferred to the UA from Western Nevada Community College, struggled down the stretch, giving up four or more earned runs in each of his last five starts.

Conversely, he gave up just four earned runs once in his first 11 starts.

The right-hander will almost certainly be drafted in next month’s draft but could opt to return for his junior season if he’s not selected high enough.

“If you would have asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have thought there was a pretty good chance he could go,” Lopez said. “But then he struggled late when scouts were coming out, so I’m not sure now.”

The team’s Sunday starter, Tyger Talley, will be back. The sophomore went 2-4 with a 3.66 ERA and unlike Hamlin, got stronger as the year went on. He gave up just one earned run in four of his last five starts.

The problem though is neither Talley nor Hamlin have the stuff to be considered a Friday night starter in the Pac-12.

Lopez is hoping to find that guy through recruiting. He’s eager to add two impact arms from the junior college ranks, and there’s a chance a freshman could emerge, a la Kurt Heyer in 2010.

The team’s highest rated recruit for 2015, Michael Kopech, likely won’t make it to Tucson: He is expected to be picked in the first few rounds of next month’s draft.

Closer Bobby Dalbec will be back. The freshman posted a 2.13 ERA in that role this season. There’s a chance he could move into the rotation, but it’s more likely he stays in the bullpen.

Mat Troupe, recovering from Tommy John surgery, should be healthy by the start of Pac-12 play next season. He’s also eligible for the draft but has said he’s expecting to return for his senior season.

Lopez also said he still thinks freshmen Morgan Earman and Austin Schnabel can have productive careers despite unimpressive debuts.

Offense

The catalyst at the plate this year, sophomore center fielder Scott Kingery, will return in 2015. He hit a team-best .354 in 53 starts this season and also led the team with 19 stolen bases, 33 walks and 41 runs scored.

Right fielder Zach Gibbons and shortstop Kevin Newman will also be back after productive seasons. Gibbons hit .338, and Newman finished at .304.

Kingery and Newman are both under consideration for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, which competes in late June and July. The full roster should be announced in the next couple of weeks.

After the three sophomores, things get a bit murky.

Dalbec, who saw time at designated hitter and first base, hit .266 on the season and just .235 in conference play. His power puts him in play for a middle-of-the-lineup spot next year, though.

Fellow freshmen Michael Hoard, Willie Calhoun and Kenny Meimerstorf also struggled with consistency, all batting .247 or below.

Krause came on at the end of the season and saw increased playing time. He finished with a .263 average in 95 at-bats but produced 18 RBIs.

“I like some of the younger guys we have coming back,” Lopez said. “I like Bobby Dalbec. I like Tyler Krause.”

The coach said he’d like to find a junior college third baseman and a junior college center fielder. If that happens, it’s likely Kingery would move to second base to form a middle infield team with Newman.

Juniors Trent Gilbert, Riley Moore and Joe Maggi are unlikely to return for their senior seasons.

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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