There were a few reasons Chase Davis didn’t play much last season. A couple of them are currently participating in spring training.
Now that Davis is an everyday player, he continues to show why former Arizona coach Jay Johnson often referred to him as a 5-star prospect.
Davis hit two towering home runs, including a tie-breaking grand slam to start a 6-run 7th inning, helping the Wildcats complete a sweep of Stanford with a 10-3 win Monday night at Hi Corbett Field.
Arizona (16-4, 5-1) completed its first sweep of the Cardinal (9-8, 1-5) and is off to its best start in conference play since beginning 8-0 in 2007. It also moves the UA into a tie with Oregon (13-6, 5-1) for first place in the Pac-12; the Wildcats and Ducks end the regular season with a 3-game series in Eugene.
A left-handed hitting sophomore outfielder, Davis played in 27 games in 2021 but got just one start, hitting .233 with four RBI and more strikeouts (12) than hits (seven). Despite coming to the UA with a lot of promise, it was hard to crack an outfield that included future MLB draft picks Ryan Holgate and Donta’ Williams as well as current centerfielder Mac Bingham and veterans corner outfielders Tyler Casagrande and Blake Paugh.
“It wasn’t my turn last year,” said Davis, who if not for the MLB shrinking its 2020 draft to five rounds may have never played for Arizona. “I wouldn’t call it difficult, I would call more of a more of a challenge I would take on. An opportunity that I knew I was going to get down the road, maybe if it wasn’t my time, during that year, it’s okay. I really stuck with it and worked each and every single day as far as I could. And I knew this time would come.”
Davis still strikes out a lot—he has a team-high 27—but he also leads the team in walks with 16. When he puts the ball in play, though, he’s hitting .479.
“That’s one thing I knew he would do,” said coach Chip Hale, who called Davis a “work in progress” that has gotten better with the bat as he’s gained confidence. “He has a really good eye so, we knew that was gonna translate. He’s always been more of a walk guy in his career. Now he’s hitting the pitches he’s supposed to hit.”
Arizona once again saved most of its offense for the later innings, just as it did in comeback wins over Stanford on Saturday and Sunday. The Wildcats were down 3-1 entering the bottom of the sixth when Tanner O’Tremba led off with a walk and then Davis blasted a 2-run shot off Cardinal starter Drew Dowd to tie it up.
Dowd struck out the next three, the last two looking, and fanned nine in six innings. Seven were on called third strikes.
“He threw some really good 2-strike breaking balls that froze our guys,” Hale said. “And it’s frustrating. The players are the most frustrated guys of all, they feel like they work on that so much. A lot of them are on the outside corner somewhere, or inside, which you don’t see a lot of in college baseball. So it was impressive.”
The 6-run 7th, against a new pitcher, began with Tyler Casagrande singling to left. Garen Caulfield walked, and after Nik McClaughry moved the runners over with a sacrifice bunt Daniel Susac was intentionally walked to load the bases. O’Tremba struck out, and Davis fell behind 0-2 against reliever Ryan Bruno when he realized what was coming next.
“We had a scouting report on him saying that he was throwing fast balls 97 percent of time,” Davis said of Bruno. “So I was like, okay, well, I already did damage to a fastball earlier in the game, so when I was 0-2 I was like, okay, he might actually might throw a curveball. So I was sitting curveball the whole time, and took a nice rip on it and did damage.”
Davis, who also hit a 3-run homer during the 5-run 8th in Sunday’s comeback win, hit all three off left-handed pitchers.
“As a lefty, when you face a lefty you can tend to fly (your shoulder) open,” he said. “Just working on keeping it closed and getting off the plate a little bit, to kind of bait them to throw fastballs on kind of the outside corner, because I like hitting outside pitches. So I just stepped to the ball and drive it.”
Arizona torched Stanford’s bullpen in the series, scoring 11 runs and drawing 10 walks with just one strikeout (compared to 27 against the starters) in just four innings. The Wildcats scored 19 runs in the sweep, 10 in the seventh and eight innings.
Right-hander Quinn Flanagan got the win in relief, improving to 3-1 and lowering his ERA to 1.08 with four one-hit innings, striking out five. Starter Dawson Netz went the first five, allowing three runs on six hits with four Ks.
The UA, off to its best 20-game start since 2017, hits the road for a midweek nonconference game Wednesday at New Mexico, whom it beat 12-5 at home on March 8. The Wildcats then come back to Hi Corbett to host UCLA (12-7, 1-2) Friday through Sunday.