Before his career at Arizona is up, Andy Lopez wants to take a page out of Mike Candrea’s playbook.
“There’s a day where I’d love to do what softball does and throw a pitcher like 12 days in a row,” Lopez said this week.
The UA coach already has the guy — Cody Hamlin — picked out. The right-hander, a transfer from Western Nevada Community College, uses a sidearm delivery to fill up the strike zone.
It’s less-taxing on his arm and deceives hitters.
“Hamlin on Friday, Hamlin on Saturday, Hamlin on Sunday and Hamlin in long relief,” a smiling Lopez said.
For now, of course, Lopez will have to settle for Hamlin on Saturdays only. So he won’t be on the mound tonight when the Wildcats open a three-game series against Seton Hall at Hi Corbett Field at 6.
But he will be front and center Saturday.
Hamlin, who grew up in Boise, Idaho, has started his UA career with a bang, winning both of his first two starts and sporting a 1.12 ERA. He has given up just nine hits and two runs in 16 innings and has not issued a walk.
He tossed a complete game in a 20-1 win over Alcorn State last weekend to lock down a weekend rotation spot that was up for grabs at the beginning of the season.
“We knew he could help us because he’s different than anything else we have with that delivery,” pitching coach Shaun Cole said. “At worst, he was going to be a right-handed matchup guy out of the bullpen, which is still valuable. But he’s out-performed what we thought and has really helped us.”
Like his delivery, Hamlin’s journey to weekend starter of a Pac-12 team is unique.
After graduating from Timberline High School in Boise, Hamlin didn’t have a lot of options. He had yet to reinvent his delivery and was just another righty with a normal delivery who threw in the mid-80s.
He was offered a partial scholarship at Western Nevada, but when he got there, the coaches didn’t feel he was ready to contribute. Not only did they redshirt him, they took his scholarship away and told him he’d have to earn it back.
He did, thanks to a new delivery. His coaches thought the sidearm angle would help him keep the ball down, throw more strikes and increase his velocity.
By the second semester of his second year at Western Nevada, they had seen enough to give him his scholarship back. He earned a starting spot and went on to go 10-2 with a 1.45 ERA, was named the Scenic West Conference Pitcher of the Year and was throwing 88-89 miles per hour.
“I don’t think I would have had that success if I didn’t have to go through the adversity of losing my scholarship and all that,” Hamlin said. “Looking back, it was a blessing.”
Lopez and other college coaches quickly took notice. A year after being an afterthought at a junior college, Hamlin had schools like Arizona, Arizona State and Kentucky hard after him.
He visited all three and finally settled on the Wildcats, because he thought he had a decent chance to keep starting.
“It all happened really quickly,” Hamlin said. “It didn’t set in until I got here, and I’m like, ‘Wow, it really happened.’ ”
Despite the fast start, Hamlin still has plenty to work on before Pac-12 play. Cole and Lopez both said the righty needs to work on his slider, especially to left-handed hitters. He’s also working on his pick-off move, which has given him trouble since shifting to the sidearm delivery.
Both are easy fixes.
“He’s not scared to put in the work and get better,” Lopez said. “That’s one of the things I like about him. He looks prime and ready to compete, which at this point, you have to have. He’s got some more competitiveness to him because of the road he’s taken here. Everybody wants to be the highly recruited guy out of high school.
“But he’s a guy that had to earn a scholarship at a junior college. Since the day I’ve been here, he does not look scared at all.”