After Arizona baseball’s 14-10 win over New Mexico State on Tuesday night, there was a feel-good vibe surrounding manager Jay Johnson during his postgame press conference.
That is, until he was asked why centerfielder Matt Fraizer wasn’t in the lineup against the Aggies.
“He has a broken hand,” Johnson grimaced. “He broke his hand on Sunday (against Utah) in his second to last at-bat. He’ll have surgery and we’ll see where it goes. We’ll try to get him back as soon as possible. I’ve heard varying degrees of the time table.”
The broken bone in question is the hamate bone in Fraizer’s right hand.
The hamate bone is a small bone located near the wrist, that is actually fully removed via surgery once broken. Johnson said it’s a common baseball injury that can occur simply from overswinging the bat. Recovery time can vary from as little as four weeks to more than two months.
On the eve of their first major road trip of the season, which features weekend series at No. 1 UCLA and undefeated ASU, Fraizer’s loss is a big one for Arizona.
The junior has arguably been the best player in a Wildcat’s offense that’s been among the most formidable in the country so far in 2019.
Currently, Arizona is third in the nation in total runs scored and nobody has driven in more of them for the Cats this year than Fraizer, who had posted 28 RBIs before getting hurt, tied for the 11th most in the NCAA.
His .412 batting average at the time of his injury, is also the second highest on a squad whose team average of .327 is currently fourth in the country.
“You can’t really quantify losing Matt right now,” Johnson said, “He had really started playing to the vision of what we saw when we recruited him. If you want a comparison, it’s like losing a quarterback who is averaging 400 yards a game and five touchdowns or whatever LeBron James and Steph Curry do, averaging 32 points every night.”
Fraizer had started the Wildcats first 19 games, recording hits in 18 of them and was also riding a 13-game hit streak before the injury.
Donta Williams shifted from left field to center against New Mexico State, while Matt Dyer started in left and freshman Tate Soderstrom got the nod in right.
Dyer has started 19 of Arizona’s 20 games this season, but so far has mostly been used as a catcher or first baseman.
However, he says he got significant time in the outfield during his tenure at Oregon before he transferred to the UA, and says he is more than comfortable playing out there if needed.
“I played 40 something games of outfield at Oregon,” he said after Tuesday’s game, “it’s like second nature to me.”
Entering the toughest part of their schedule, the Wildcats will need to show some serious toughness and grit, with one of their leaders out of the lineup.
Their mental fortitude will be put to the test as they look to come away with what could end up being some big wins against UCLA and ASU come selection day for the NCAA tournament.
It’ll be tough without Fraizer, but Dyer is confident that Arizona, who are 13-7 overall and 2-1 in the conference, will be able to overcome the setback.
“Fraizer is one of our big-time leaders and he’s one of those guys that brings the energy every night,” he said, “he’s a spark plug in our lineup and it’s something we’re going to have to get through for sure, but I don’t think it will affect us.”
The Wildcats are going to have to prove just that, if they are to take some wins off of the runs-stingy, top ranked Bruins and the only unbeaten team in the nation in ASU.
First pitch between Arizona and UCLA is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST Friday night.