When Robby Medel first took the mound for the Arizona Wildcats on Valentine’s Day 2015, he threw 7 2⁄3 innings of one-run baseball against Eastern Michigan. He looked like the second coming of Kurt Heyer; a (redshirt) freshman with a mound presence that would allow him to succeed at the highest level of college baseball as a weekend starter.
“He believes in himself, he believes in his stuff, he believes he can get people out,” then-head coach Andy Lopez said of Medel that night.
Exactly 90 innings later, Medel hasn’t been in an outing as lengthy or impactful as that first one, but things are starting to change back for him a little bit.
“It’s been awhile,” he admitted on Saturday night after tossing four innings of scoreless ball against the surging Utah Utes, his longest single outing since May 9th, 2015. “Just gotta trust the process, but it feels good.”
Medel ended up throwing six innings of shutout baseball over the Utah weekend, which nearly equaled his output throughout the entirety of the 2017 season.
“Spectacular, he’s moving up the charts,” now-head coach Jay Johnson said of Medel’s performance against Utah. “I think he just pitched with conviction, and I think the most telling thing to me was a few of his teammates noticing it the previous outings prior to tonight saying this guy’s gonna compete for us, and I was glad to see it.”
“I’m a frontrunner, and there’s no bigger fan of his than me.”
Currently, Medel sports a 1.23 ERA in 14 2⁄3 innings this year. He’s also allowed just one extra-base hit out of the 12 he’s surrendered.
You would think that nearly two full seasons of not being used very much would frustrate someone like Medel, but he hasn’t been down about his situation at all.
“It goes back to the preparation,” Medel explained of why he’s seeing success now. “Our pitching program’s huge, and it’s effective, and when you buy into it, you love it, and when you go about it with a grit and a grind every day, it gets long. But when you get into it, it doesn’t matter when you pitch or how long in between outings; you trust the process of your program and that’s where the success comes from.”
“I remember thinking he started and I had a guy who threw 65 innings,” Johnson reminisced on his thoughts about Medel when taking the Arizona job. “I was hopeful he would be able to do some of those things, but development happens at different times for guys, and I think he’s making a jump.”
With this now being his fourth season of college baseball including the redshirt season at TCU, Medel also has a little bit of perspective at a time like this.
“I’m old, man. I’m 22,” he joked. “Every time I touch that mound or any mound in the country, I cherish it dude, because I don’t know how many times I’m going to do it going forward.”
“I don’t want to look back when I’m 34 and be like ‘Man, if I had thrown that one pitch with a little more conviction, a little more intent, maybe I’d still be playing baseball’. I don’t want to do that.”
With Arizona’s lack of consistent relief pitching throughout the year, there’s certainly an opportunity for Medel to touch those mounds more often than anyone was expecting just a couple weeks ago.