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Arizona baseball: Michael Hoard's patience leading to improved results

The Tucson product is finally starting to put some numbers up at the plate.

Jason Bartel

Salpointe's Michael Hoard joined the Arizona Wildcats baseball program last year with a ton of expectations.

He had the size and strength that not many freshmen had possessed. He had the local product story.

All of that didn't manifest into much in 2014.

He hit just .222 in 26 games played, and struck out in 22 of his 63 at bats.

But fast forward to the beginning of Pac-12 play in 2015, and all of the sudden Arizona's left-handed DH is putting it all together.

"Just putting in my work and waiting for my chance to come," Hoard explained. "As soon as I get in the game, just realizing that every at bat counts and trying to lock in as best as I can."

The patience that Hoard has shown this year is a far cry from last year. In 2014, he had seven walks in 70 plate appearances. This year, he has 10 walks in 37 plate appearances.

"It's been huge for me," he said of his new-found selectivity at the plate. "I've usually had discipline problems in the past with seeing pitches and letting pitches go. So I think the walks have definitely attributed to my confidence at the plate."

"You can have the greatest message in the world, but there has to be a receiver for it," head coach Andy Lopez said on Tuesday. "You can be God himself, but if there's no receiver, who cares. You could be Nick Saban as a football coach, and if there's no receiver, who cares. If they don't listen to you it doesn't matter....I know when a hitter doesn't have a good approach, and these guys are good receivers. And that's one of the traits of Michael Hoard and a couple of other guys."

After having a big series against Stanford, Hoard returned to practice that week and was hit in the head with a pitch, sustaining a concussion. That was probably the worst possible time for that as he was just finding his groove against the Cardinal, but it turned out okay.

"The next couple days were a little bit hazy," the sophomore said through a laugh. "But I just worked through the headache and rested it off the next two days and then felt good on Friday so I played."

"When you get your bell rung like that, everything's a little bit hazy for a while and you kind of have to regroup yourself."

It wasn't his first go around with a concussion either, so he sort of had an idea of how to handle it and recover as quickly as possible.

"Freshman year (at Salpointe) I had a concussion," he explained. "So it wasn't something completely new to me."

Hoard played last week against Oregon after suffering that concussion, and then was in the lineup again on Thursday against USC. He went 0-for-2 in the 4-1 loss, but did draw a couple more walks.

While he likely won't be in the lineup Friday night because the Trojans are starting a left-handed pitcher, expect to see him at DH for the foreseeable future when the opposing team has a right-hander on the mound.

"The DH spot is just saying 'Alright, who's the best hitter we got on the bench today?'. When you're the DH, you just take it upon yourself that I need to represent for my team and represent for myself."

Because of his defensive liability, Hoard doesn't really play first base much anymore with guys like JJ Matijevic, Sawyer Gieseke and Joseph Maggi being better than him in the field. So he's had to adjust to sitting in the dugout for a couple of innings between each bit of action.

"Obviously as a DH you're going to have to sit down and watch the game and enjoy your time on the bench until your at bats, but I figure about three hitters ahead of me or the next inning before I start stretching out my legs and get my wrists and hands nice and loose."

"DH is just straight I got my at bats today and that's all my worries."

Well those Hoard at bats are definitely more productive now than they were a year ago, and are just one of the reasons why Arizona's offense is one of the top in the nation in 2015.