The last time Daniel Susac had a day off behind the plate was nearly a year ago. It might be worth giving him a few more breaks from catching if his fill-in is going to perform this well.
Tommy Splaine homered on the first pitch of his first collegiate at-bat and also played solid in the field in Arizona’s 9-1 win over Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon at Hi Corbett Field.
“It was one to remember, but I can’t wait for many more games to come,” said Splaine, who finished 2 for 3 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound freshman made his UA debut on the mound during Tuesday’s loss to Grand Canyon, allowing two runs in 1.1 innings of work. He can also play first base, but for the time being his greatest value might come in being able to spell Susac behind the plate.
Arizona coach Chip Hale said the decision was made after Tuesday night, when Splaine’s pitching prevented Susac from being able to be subbed out late in a blowout because it would have left the Wildcats with only one catcher (sophomore Cameron LaLiberte), to give Susac a game off during the 4-game Milwaukee series. Which one, though, depended on a few factors.
“Day after night was the first thing,” said Hale, who also noted having senior left-hander Garrett Irvin on the mound contributed to Saturday being the best option.
“We had Tommy catch Garrett’s side, his bullpen session, to get ready for it,” Hale said. “He’s caught everybody, so we’re not worried about it. He did a good job behind the plate.”
Irvin, who allowed five hits with a walk over six scoreless innings, said he didn’t notice much difference between Splaine and Susac in terms of who he was throwing to.
“It was almost as if Dan was back there,” Irvin said. “ Me and Tommy know each other very well, so I think if anything happened (on) maybe one pitch then he would correct or I would correct and we were always on the same page.”
Also helping Irvin was solid defense behind him. The Wildcats turned three double plays, two with Irvin pitching.
“I think it’s very easy, especially when it’s 3-2 or I’m behind in the count, to just let the hitter almost hit the ball, just because I have so much confidence in our defense,” Irvin said.
Now 11-4 in his UA career, Irvin was among the slew of UA players who entered the NCAA transfer portal after Jay Johnson left for the LSU job. Undrafted in July, Irvin said he had some options to sign with professional teams but opted to return to Arizona after seeing what the Wildcats were bringing back.
“I love (pitching coach Dave) Lawn, I liked the the Chip Hale edition,” he said. “There was a lot of guys coming back as well, so I think I wanted to use this year as kind of a better sendoff, try to finish the way we wanted to, which is to win in Omaha. After last year, it almost felt like we had unfinished business here.”
Arizona finished with 11 hits, with leadoff man Nik McClaughry going 3 for 5. In addition to Splaine, Chase Davis also had two hits including a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth, making it 5-0.
The Wildcats added four runs in the eighth, two coming home on a single by freshman Jack Grant for his first career RBIs.
Milwaukee (3-2) averted the shutout—and instead created the same final score as Friday—with a 2-out run in the top of the ninth.
Arizona and the Panthers complete the 4-game series Sunday at 10 a.m. MT at Hi Corbett. Sophomore righty Dawson Netz will start for the Wildcats.