Most people that are just picking up Arizona Wildcats baseball in the postseason might not know that the Cats are really running out two catchers in their starting lineup.
Of course there’s Cesar Salazar behind the plate, but then there’s also Ryan Haug, who has been playing left field. Haug is really the team’s backup catcher, but just started playing left field three weeks ago to take the place of Mitchell Morimoto in the lineup.
And both contributed in very different ways to Arizona’s extra-inning win over Delaware in Saturday’s elimination game.
Salazar went 3-for-6 with 3 RBI, including driving in the team’s first run of the day and then giving Arizona a four-run lead in the seventh.
Haug was 0-for-5 at the plate, but one throw from left field ended up being particularly important.
With two outs in the eighth inning and Michael Flynn just entering the game for Cameron Ming, Delaware shortstop Jeremy Ake lined a Flynn pitch into left.
Haug was essentially playing on the warning track, so two runs scored, but the ball did not get by him.
So he picked it up, fired it into second, and cut down Ake, ending the inning and preserving a two-run lead at the time.
“That ended up being a big play,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said. “If the next guy had gotten a base hit it would’ve been tied in the eighth there. It was a big time play.”
“They were in a no-doubles situation and he cut it off and Ake’s not exactly the most fleet afoot so he gave it a shot,” Delaware head coach Jim Sherman added about that play. “He would probably second guess that opportunity now, but that kid had to throw a strike and he did. As in baseball, you risk some things and you come out on the good end sometimes and sometimes you come out on the short end, and we came out on the short end on that one.”
Haug may have been hitless at the plate in this elimination game, but it doesn’t mean he was getting bad swings.
“To me he blistered the ball today and had nothing to show for it,” Johnson said. “He hit three or four linedrives and he’s 0-for-5; that’s how unfair this game is sometimes.”
“But there was no bigger play in the game than cutting that guy down at second.”
Haug’s transition to the outfield has been quick but seemingly natural for the guy who considers himself to be a great athlete period, not just compared to other catchers.
“It’s awesome,” freshman third baseman Nick Quintana said earlier in the week about his teammate. “He went into the outfield and he was professional in the outfield right off the bat. He’s got a strong arm, and he’s been doing very well for us so it’s awesome to see that he can play any position.”
“I mean Ryan does a really good job playing left field,” Salazar tacked on. “He looks like a natural outfielder reading balls and getting jumps on fly balls. He’s a natural athlete and that gets him an advantage of playing left field and you’re like ‘Wow, that guy’s an outfielder. This guy’s been playing outfield for a while’, so that’s pretty cool to see.”
On the flip side, Salazar’s offensive firepower in big spots has kind of become a postseason theme the last couple of years.
“I just wanted to put together good at bats and help my team win,” Salazar said of his performance. “But it’s no different in those situations.”
“With him you’re expecting something big every single game,” Alfonso Rivas added about his close friend. “I’m not really surprised that he played how he played today. It’s just something regular about him.”
Not every team can say they have two catchers contributing in every game, but Arizona can. It’s certainly different and could result in their season lasting longer than it should have.