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Strikeouts at the plate still a concern for Arizona baseball entering series at Washington

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In its run to the College World Series last season, Arizona set school records for strikeouts by both its pitchers and hitters. One of those marks is on pace to be obliterated this spring, and not the one the Wildcats would like.

Arizona batters have struck out 243 times in 25 games, putting the team on pace to blow past the 2021 record of 501. The Wildcats have been punched out at the plate 84 times in nine Pac-12 games, behind only Washington State (87).

The UA has whiffed 10 or more times on 13 occasions, including in Tuesday’s 5-3 win at Grand Canyon when it struck out 14 times. Six of its 10 main batters are averaging more than a strikeout per game, compared to none last season.

“You have to realize what your hickeys are, and that’s one of ours,” coach Chip Hale said. “We are going to strike out. A guy like Chase (Davis), he’s going to have a number of strikeouts, but he’s also going to get walks, and he’s going to hit the big one for us.”

Davis has struck out a team-high 33 times, but he also leads the teams in walks (19) and home runs (eight). He’s one of three regulars slugging over .600 and one of four with an on-base percentage above .400.

While strikeouts in general are not ideal, there are levels to them, Hale said.

“They’re more of a concern, though, when they’re not what we would call a quality at-bat strikeout, where you’re battling, maybe it’s a 7-, 8-, 9-pitch bat and you get beat.”

Catcher Daniel Susac echoes that sentiment, noting that a strikeout early can lead to better at-bats later in the game.

“I think the biggest benefit is you know everything he has now,” said Susac, who is hitting a team-best .411. “I think now everything becomes decision-making, instead of learning the timing of each pitches. I think the second and third time around it’s more decision-making and sticking to your plan.”

Arizona’s last two games have seen it go into the fifth and sixth innings, respectively, without a hit, yet against Grand Canyon it finished with eight hits including a pair of sixth-inning home runs off the same starting pitcher that had no-hit the Wildcats for 5-plus.

“You learn a little bit on every time you step in the box, and that’s why it’s important the first time around, that our hitters get to see more than just a fastball,” Hale said. “If they get to see all of their pitches the first time around then we’re in good shape.”

Not surprisingly, the UA is outscoring opponents 70-30 in the seventh and eighth innings.

Arizona’s 5-game road trip continues this weekend with three games at Washington, beginning with Friday’s 6 p.m. PT opener. The Huskies (14-10, 5-4) lost two of three at ASU last weekend.

Seattle hasn’t been a friendly place for the Wildcats, who were swept on their last visit in 2018 and where they haven’t won a series since taking 2 of 3 in 2012.