A funny thing happened on the way to Bobby Dalbec becoming one of the top sluggers in college baseball.
He became a dominant closer.
The first part is still attainable for the Arizona Wildcats junior. The season is still young, and the powerful third baseman has shown signs that he might be on the verge of busting out of his current slump.
The second part is a tribute to Dalbec’s ability to compartmentalize. He isn’t letting his struggles at the plate affect him on the mound.
“It’s the most impressive thing that I’ve seen out of him,” said Arizona coach Jay Johnson, whose team hosts Sacramento State in a three-game series starting Friday. “He’s been the ultimate team guy.”
Dalbec has recorded the save in three of the Wildcats’ last four victories.
In five innings, he has allowed two hits, one walk and zero runs. He has struck out six.
In six appearances this season, Dalbec has a 2-1 record with a 0.73 ERA. He is limiting batters to a .171 average.
“He’s pitching his (butt) off,” second baseman JJ Matijevic said. “He’s doing everything he needs to be doing to help this team.
“When he comes in, I believe … that we already won the game. That’s how well he’s doing, and that’s how much confidence I have in him.”
At the plate, Dalbec has yet to find the form that helped him hit .319 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs last season. He is batting just .146, has struck out 16 times in 41 at-bats and has yet to hit a home run.
But Dalbec looked and felt better during last weekend’s Wildcat Invitational. In the finale against Northwestern State, he went 1 for 1 with three walks.
“I’m not too worried about results. I’m just trying to stick with the process right now,” Dalbec said. “Sometimes it’s good to get kicked in the butt a little bit. I’m glad I’m going through this now; I don’t see myself getting into another slump later in the season.”
•Matijevic is among several Wildcats who have benefited from the coaching change. Johnson and his staff helped Matijevic alter his approach, and he’s batting .349 after hitting .238 last season. “At this time last year, I was all over the place,” Matijevic said. “Right now, I’m locked in.”
• JC Cloney will start for Arizona on Friday, with Nathan Bannister pitching Game 2 on Saturday. Bannister is off to a superb start. The senior is 2-0 with a 2.62 ERA. He has allowed only 15 baserunners – including just one via base on balls – in 24 innings. “He puts (batters) on the defensive,” Johnson said. “People have a hard time squaring him up.”
Outfielders Zach Gibbons and Justin Behnke have combined for 26 walks and only 11 strikeouts. Behnke has a team-best .511 on-base percentage, despite a .222 average.
• Following the series with Sacramento State, the UA will host New Mexico State Tuesday night. Then comes Pac-12 play: The Wildcats will travel to Seattle for a three-game series with Washington that begins March 18.