After two weekends of road trips, the Arizona Wildcats will hold their home opener on Wednesday night against Cal State Fullerton with a record of 4-3.
The biggest issue facing this team early in the year has been the pitching staff. So far, Arizona has a combined ERA of 6.20, which is only better than Utah in the Pac-12.
One guy that pitching coach Dave Lawn told me would see a lot of time early in the year was fifth-year senior Tyler Crawford. Crawford has missed the better part of the last two seasons due to a severe case of gastritis followed by Tommy John Surgery, which he thinks were possibly related to each other.
But right before the season started, Crawford suffered a setback with his elbow recovery. Coach Johnson told me on Sunday that they took an MRI, and it came back negative, so they are hoping to have him back in the near future.
One guy that's missing that won't be back anytime soon is Tyger Talley. Talley was with the team in the fall, but when the spring roster was released, his name was missing. Last season, Talley had back and shoulder issues that would hit him after pitching about four innings, resulting in about a 10 MPH drop in velocity. His back issues returned, and he was unable to rehab it enough to return this spring. There is a chance that he plays for Arizona in 2017 though.
Talley and Crawford are two huge pieces missing in the backend of the Wildcats bullpen. And for the most part, that part of the team has struggled immensely through two weeks.
One relief pitcher who is not struggling is Rio Gomez. He's largely been used as a situational left-handed pitcher, but after a strong outing against San Diego State on Sunday, he may see his role expand moving forward.
Arizona falls to the Diamondbacks 12-5 on Tuesday
The Wildcats traveled to Salt River Fields to play a seven-inning exhibition game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday, losing 12-5. While Jay Johnson trotted out a fairly normal looking starting lineup, most of the starters only got one or two at bats, getting replaced by some of the bench guys.
Arizona used four pitchers, and one interesting guy that saw some time was Trent Johnson. The freshman righty is coming off Tommy John Surgery, and I believe these were his first competitive pitches since suffering that injury. He gave up eight hits and seven runs in two innings, but it's encouraging to see him throw 40 pitches, 28 for strikes. Johnson may be a redshirt candidate, and pitching in this exhibition doesn't put that in jeopardy, but maybe he'll be in the mix as Arizona continues to search for effective relief pitching.
Cal State Fullerton preview
The first home game of the year is Wednesday night at Hi Corbett. The Cal State Fullerton Titans are coming to town with a 4-2 record this season. They dropped two of three at Stanford, but followed that up by sweeping Indiana in Fullerton last weekend.
Despite having two losses, the Titans have not given up more than three runs in a single game this year. This is concerning for Arizona, who has found themselves in several slugfests so far. The Wildcats' .300 team batting average is the third-best in the Pac-12 right now, but they'll have to get through a tough Fullerton staff to get a big non-conference win. By comparison, the Titans are only hitting .212. Their 22 total runs are what Arizona put up in a two-game stretch last weekend at the Tony Gwynn Classic.
Fullerton's best hitter is senior outfielder Josh Vargas. He's hitting at a .304 clip (7-of-23). Only one other regular starter is hitting above .250, and that's sophomore infielder Tristan Hildebrandt. He's hitting .300 in CSF's six games. So, something's gotta give on both ends. It should be an interesting matchup, and a perfect way for Tucson to experience the new Arizona baseball atmosphere for the first time.
- Freshman Alfonso Rivas was named the Pac-12's Player of the Week for his performance in San Diego. The OF/DH/P was 9-for-15 at the plate, drove in seven runs, scored four, and hit the team's first home run of the season.
- Freshman catcher Cesar Salazar got dinged up a bit on Saturday and Sunday, having to be checked on by the trainer a few times. Coach Johnson said it was a head thing, but Salazar played on Tuesday against the DBacks, so he should be good to go (if Fullerton has a RHP on Wednesday).
- After a preseason full of awards and watch lists, Bobby Dalbec has not gotten off to a good start. He's hitting a team-low .138, has struck out in almost half of his at bats (14 Ks in 29 ABs), and while he has been charged with just one error, I can safely say he actually committed at least three, possibly four against San Diego State alone. He's been good on the mound though, giving up just one run in 7 1/3 innings of work, resulting in a 2-1 record.
- Cody Ramer has proven to be a very good leadoff man for this team. He has recorded a hit in six of the team's seven games, and has had multi-hit games in four of those.
- Competing with Ramer at shortstop is Louis Boyd, but Boyd may need to be in the lineup more too. In Arizona's three losses, Boyd has not had an at bat. In their four wins, he's played in all of them, and has been a part of the game's biggest play. On Saturday against Nebraska, he drove in the game-winning run in the 10th inning. On Sunday, he made a huge defensive play in the top of the 8th, shifting the momentum in Arizona's favor, and then the Wildcats scored five runs in the bottom half of that inning.