Coming into the 2017 season, it was blatantly obvious that the Arizona Wildcats would go as their incoming junior college transfers would go.
The pitching staff was going to be reliant on the likes of Tylor Megill, Landon Faulkner, and Seve Romo, and in the early going, the trio was struggling, and so did Arizona (at least against top tier teams).
“No, not even close,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said when asked if that trio was where he wanted them to be following the Oregon State series. “I think their stuff is all in there, it’s just a matter of getting it out consistently where they can help us piece together 81 outs, if you will, on the weekend.”
“On the mound, all three of them can be very good,” senior junior college transfer JC Cloney tacked on at that time. “It’s a game of inches, so one inch inside might be the difference between a home run and a fly out.”
Now it seems that all three of them are finding themselves on the right side of that inch, as highlighted by Megill’s four scoreless innings against ASU on Tuesday night and Faulkner’s 4 1⁄3 perfect innings against Grand Canyon the week prior.
“A lot of guys are starting to settle in a little bit and get comfortable,” Johnson said after the ASU victory. “None of them have had a ton of experience here because they came in with good predictability, good track record behind them, sometimes they just needed some experience and I think that’s what we’re seeing with all of them.”
“Just the team is coming together collectively right now,” Megill added. “Things are going real smooth and I feel like our game’s stepping up a lot more right now.”
Johnson had said that the coaching staff needed to come up with a better plan for Megill and call his games better when he was struggling as the Saturday starter. That has now happened.
“First couple weeks were a struggle for me and I got some time off in the bullpen,” Megill explained. “It gave me time to prepare, get myself together, and I came out today (vs. ASU) and was very confident and ready to go.”
“What I had problems with early on was just command and the past few outings I’ve had some good command,” continued Megill. “I feel like that’s a big key to success in my pitching right now.”
“I just think Tylor’s having a lot of fun on the mound, and going out there and showing what he’s got,” Cal Stevenson said of his teammate. “At the beginning of the year he had a slow start, but he’s made some adjustments. He’s throwing the ball hard now and keeping it down and getting us outs, and he’ll have a big role for us later in the year, and hopefully he can continue what he’s doing.”
Romo also pitched in that ASU game, giving up a solo home run in two innings of work.
When looking at their season ERAs, all three of them are still right around 7.00, but have in fact come down a bit in recent weeks. Arizona’s going to need them as they get through the meat of the Pac-12 schedule.
Another impact junior college player that’s starting to come around on the offensive side of things is Cal Stevenson. The former Nevada player launched a grand slam that cleared everything in right field against the Sun Devils for his first home run at a Division-1 school.
“He has some pop when he can get into one, so that was cool,” Megill said of that grand slam. “He’s always peppering balls to left-center, so it was cool to see.”
“Never,” Stevenson said if he’d ever hit a ball that far in practice. “I think I’ve only gotten like two balls out of here in practice, so when I saw it leave the park in this game I was pretty surprised myself.”
Stevenson has been starting in right field all year, but his numbers (.266/.404/.405) don’t necessarily indicate huge production despite him being tied for third on the team in runs because of all his walks (team-high 22).
“We have played the number one rated schedule in all of college baseball, so I think we’ve seen some good competition, so maybe a little bit,” Johnson explained if he thought Stevenson has struggled adjusting. “Maybe trying to do a little too much, but I look at the whole picture.”
“The difference between being here and other schools is just the competitiveness and playing in the Pac-12,” Stevenson said of the biggest difference between playing at Arizona and playing at Nevada. “You’re not going to get crowds like this. You’re not going to get competition, so I think coming into practice and competing at a high level really gets us ready for what we’re doing on the field, and I think that’s why we have so much fun.”
“I think I’m overcoming a lot,” Stevenson added. “I’ve been working as myself, with the coaches, and I think it’s paying off right now. I think the most important thing I want to focus on is doing anything I can to help my team and right now we’re halfway through the season and we’re in a good position to win a lot of games down the stretch.”