Arizona baseball opens its 2020 season Friday night at Hi Corbett Field, and the Wildcats’ game against Albany won’t just represent the start of a new campaign.
It will also represent the debut of the UA’s new associate head coach and pitching coach, Nate Yeskie.
Widely regarded as one of college baseball’s elite pitching coaches, Yeskie was hired by Arizona last summer after a successful 11-year stint at Oregon State, where he won a College World Series title in 2018 and was named the D1Baseball Assistant Coach of the Year in 2017.
With Yeskie on board, the Wildcats will now be hoping to see improvements in a pitching staff that finished 2019 with a 6.23 ERA and that ended up being the main reason the UA missed the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year.
Yeskie sat down with reporters in September, during Arizona’s fall practice season. That interview touched on a number of topics, including Yeskie’s move to Tucson, his opinion on the pitchers that he’s inherited and what Arizona fans can expect from his staff in 2020.
On how he would describe his general approach as a pitching coach: “Thorough. I think comprehensive and competitive. You know, I’d like to take great pride in that our guys are prepared for whatever challenges that they have, whether that’s a midweek game, or whether it’s a weekend where you’re working to fight for a conference title, a regional title or a Super Regional title.
“And those challenges, I think they get constructed from the outside. But for us, we try to keep it consistent. We try to maintain consistency in everything that we do and try to be really good at being really efficient.”
On how difficult it was for him to leave Oregon State: “You know, when you’re somewhere for over a decade, and you’ve had a lot of success, it’s hard leaving the people. I think places are what they are because of the people. And that was the challenge.
“You recruit kids, you build relationships with their families, you get to know people around there. My wife went to school there, she played volleyball there, she has family in the area. So those were things that were taken into consideration. But I just think that it became a time where it was time for change.”
On what made the Arizona job so appealing to him: “I think that there’s a good group dynamic here. I think staff-wise, I think player personnel-wise and I think that there are things that can really help players develop and get better.
“So I think that there were a lot of layers to it that made things intriguing. And, finally when we got down to talking about really the details of things, Jay (Johnson) made things very manageable. And I think that when you started to add all those pieces together, I think everything really just kind of made sense.”
On if he is trying to replicate the mentality here that he developed at Oregon State: “That’s always a challenge. Each year is different. Each group of kids you have is different. It’s looking at where they need to grow, where they need to develop and how they need to do it.
“The ideals may be the same as far as what you’re trying to accomplish. Does that framework exist here? I think it’s different right now. We’re going to take the positives of what’s here. We’re going to take the positives of the things that I’ve experienced and try to put those together.”
On working with head coach Jay Johnson: “He empowers us to do our job. And I think he’s known how I’ve gone about my business for however long I’ve been doing this now to say, ‘You know what? You can go do your stuff. And we’ll meet up when we need to meet up and get on the same page if we have to make adjustments in-game.’ ”
His assessment of the Wildcats’ current pitching staff: “There’s talent there, no doubt. It’s just getting to build kind of a unit, a culture of sorts that those guys can adhere to policy and continue to grow and develop. So that learning process is kind of what we’re going through right now. And just getting everybody on the same page with regards to some of those items, and how we’re going to view them, how we’re going to try to grow in some of the areas that we need to grow, and really just continue to develop those personal relationships again.”
On if he is looking at things as a new slate for his pitchers, considering the Wildcats’ struggles on the mound last year: “Yeah, I mean, I’ve looked back at video and I’ve gotten some things but as far as a clean slate and the way you put it, yeah, I think that’s absolutely what it is because this is my first go around with them.
“They’re learning me, I’m learning them and will give them a different format to operate within. And thus far, it’s been a good transition. What will make it great is how we can put those pieces together when it matters. And that’s the challenge that we have day in day out is to make sure that these guys understand that it’s always going to be about the work, there’s always going to be work to do. And it’s how well can we do those things so that when it boils down to it, it’s not necessarily who we play, it’s how we play. And if we can focus on those controls for us, Then I think that will be in the right frame of mind to to limit some of those areas where maybe there was a deficiency last year.”
On what Arizona fans can expect his pitching staff to be like this season: “Aggressive. Competitive. We will be prepared. Now does that mean that things are going to unfold the way that we want them to? I think (former LSU coach) Skip Bertman said years ago, ‘You can play well and win; you can play well and lose. You can play bad and win; you can play bad and lose.’ Two of those things you can stomach, because once the wins and losses are up on the board, they are what they are.
“At the end of the day, you’re looking to win. But you’re also looking to develop young men and help them understand that it’s all problem-solving. Whether that’s getting yourself through an inning, whether that’s getting a bunt down, whether that’s figuring out how to get a left-hander out or right-hander out, it’s giving kids a skill set to do those things so that wherever their paths lead them beyond their time at University of Arizona that they’re best prepared for success.”