For the first time since 2007, the Arizona Wildcats have started a baseball season 8-0. They are also the only Pac-12 team that has not dropped a game this year.
But it hasn’t been easy. In six of those eight games, Arizona has been trailing at some point. The only games they didn’t trail were the first and third games of the season against Eastern Kentucky.
“I think they value winning,” head coach Jay Johnson said of his players after Sunday’s victory. “I think they value that there’s no clock in baseball. They did a good job competing. It’s not over til it’s over if you will, the old school saying, and they’ve been very competitive.”
“We’re never out of the game,” catcher Cesar Salazar added. “You can never count us out. It shows how much character this team has, how much chemistry and competitiveness this team has.”
The competitiveness is certainly a far cry from where this program was two years ago.
“Oh it’s completely different,” Jared Oliva said when comparing this 2017 team to the 2015 team of his freshman season. “I’m not discrediting (Andy) Lopez, he did a great job and is a Hall of Fame coach, but it’s more of our chemistry this year. How we get along and stuff, we’re more unified. The competing part, each guy’s different, but Coach Johnson does a good job of bringing that out in each person.”
“That’s been the biggest thing. No one gives up a pitch, gives up an at bat, so we’re able to string quality at bats together, score some runs, and put some big innings up on the board.”
The one thing that this team has struggled with is defense in the field. The Wildcats have committed 13 errors in these first eight games, and have had several other lapses as well.
“There’s certainly some things we can work on. I think our defense can shape up a little bit better,” continued Oliva. “The biggest thing is our defense. We’re a good team defensively, and this weekend really surprised me with our play in the first couple innings.”
Arizona has certainly done it with offense moreso than defense. The Wildcats have scored 90 runs in these eight games, and have a team batting average of .378.
“You certainly can’t ignore the offense and the consistent, quality at bats,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of different ways to score, strike zone discipline, still executing the bunting game/hit-and-run game at a high level, hitting a lot of extra base hits so there’s a lot of different ways we can score runs, which I like.”
“I’m really impressed with our offense and how we can string quality at bats together,” Oliva added. “There’s always room to work on stuff. A couple guys can bunt better, things like that.”
On the pitching side, seven pitchers that have made multiple appearances have an ERA of 3.00 or lower.
“There’s a lot of capable guys,” Johnson continued. “There’s plenty to work on, and it’s always good to find yourself and improve while you’re winning games.”
If Arizona’s able to get everything clicking at the same time, it could be one of the most dangerous teams in the country.
“We’re gonna be a tough team to beat this year, no doubt about that,” Oliva said. “If we play our game, I think we’re fine. But like I said, we just need to clean up defense a little bit, but we’ve been good at defense since the fall so I’m not worried about that.”
Arizona plays an exhibition on Tuesday against the NC Dinos from South Korea, which will also allow some of the guys that haven’t played as much in these first eight games to get some experience against an opponent that’s not their own team.
“I think we’ll use a lot of guys on Tuesday,” Johnson explained of his approach to the game. “I think we’ll use it as an improvement day for our team in terms of depth. We need to get some guys on the mound that didn’t get to get on the mound this weekend. We need some guys to play that haven’t got a ton of at bats, and there’s plenty of good players, so it’ll be good to create an opportunity for a few new guys. We’ll also train and practice hard that day too.”