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Arizona baseball opens defense of Pac-12 title at Cal

arizona-wildcats-baseball-pac12-opener-cal-golden-bears-2022-berkeley Arizona Athletics

The title defense begins tonight in Berkeley.

The Arizona Wildcats open Pac-12 Conference play with a 3-game road series against the California Golden Bears, bringing with them the target that comes with having won the league crown a year ago.

The UA (10-3) will be playing its first true road games of the season, having played the last 10 at Hi Corbett Field after opening the year with a 3-0 record at a tournament in Texas. And it will be playing with a squad that’s still missing some guys who were expected to be a big part of this season.

Third baseman Tony Bullard has played in just one game, at DH, due to a right shoulder injury that popped up late in the preseason. That’s still one more game than right-handed pitcher Chandler Murphy, who would probably be in the weekend rotation if not for a forearm issue that to this point has limited to bullpen sessions.

Arizona is also without outfielder Blake Paugh, a right-hander hitter who is one of the team’s best against lefties. Paugh started the first seven games of the season, either in right field or at DH, logging a .500 on-base percentage before suffering an oblique injury.

The UA has also seen IF/OF Tyler Casagrande (neck) and 3B Jack Grant (broken nose) miss time to injury as well. Both of them are back, though, and Grant is coming off a career game in Tuesday’s 12-5 win over New Mexico when he was 3 for 4 with a 3-run home run and three runs scored.

Cal (6-6) has only played five home games so far, including Tuesday when it lost 9-6 to Santa Clara. The Golden Bears were picked to finish sixth in the 11-team conference in the preseason poll, three spots behind Arizona.

The Bears are hitting .259 so far, with top returner Dylan Beavers at .277 with four homers and 10 RBI. The junior outfielder hit a grand slam in Cal’s 9-1 win in Tucson last April, preventing UA from sweeping the series.

Righty TJ Nichols (2-0, 1.08 ERA) will start the Pac-12 opener for Arizona , while lefty Garrett Irvin (1-1, 2.87) and righty Dawson Netz (1-0, 3.65) will follow. The UA will finish the 4-game road trip with a tilt Monday afternoon at Pacific, then return home to host Stanford March 19-21.