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Versatile Quinn Flanagan mastering multiple roles for Arizona pitching staff

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Quinn Flanagan has had two freshman seasons at Arizona, as well as two sophomore campaigns. The 2022 season he’s listed as a junior, the result of a standard redshirt as well as an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-halted 2020 season.

Five seasons, and nearly as many roles for the Wildcats. It’s reminiscent of former UA pitcher Cameron Ming, a lefty who from 2015-17 was used in a variety of ways over 69 career appearances

Arizona pitching coach Dave Lawn called Flanagan “the right-handed Minger,” and Flanagan had no quarrel with that comparison.

“I love that compliment,” he said. “I think he’s a guy that kind of embraced kind of not having a role, if that makes any sense. You can kind of put him in any situation. I feel like that’s kind of what I’ve been doing this year, and it’s something I’ve been comfortable with and had some success so far.”

So far in 2022 Flanagan is 3-1 with a 1.19 ERA in 11 appearances, spanning 22.2 innings. He’s made one start, going five innings against Dixie State in early March, while six of his 10 relief outings have gone two or more innings. He has walked only seven batters while striking out 25.

“He probably could be one of our starters, but his value is so big,” UA coach Chip Hale said. “Whether it’s pitching long when we’re ahead. As you notice, most of the games he pitches we’re winning. If not, we’re in a spot where we think we can come back. He’s one of those guys you kind of put on the column of an up pitcher. That means he pitches in up games. He’s been huge.”

Flanagan began his UA career in 2018, but did not play that season. In 2019 he led the Wildcats with an 8-3 record, making 13 starts including a complete game shutout of Utah, and in 2020 he made four starts before the season was canceled.

Last spring Flanagan was exclusively a reliever, usually for multiple innings, the same situation he’s been mostly in this season. In 2022 he’s entered games as early as the fourth and as late as the eighth, which means needing to be prepared all day or night.

“It’s just experience,” he said. “For the last four years, I’ve kind of been through it. I think it’s just kind of getting used to that. Thinking ahead an inning or two, maybe this is the situation I’m coming in. Or if that doesn’t happen, I think later in the game, just kind of getting yourself mentally prepared in the bullpen when that happens.”

It helps that he and Lawn have a good—and long—relationship. Lawn was Arizona’s pitching coach for Flanagan’s first two seasons of play, then after Nate Yeskie handled that role in 2021 he was retained by Hale and put back in charge of the pitchers.

“We’ve had a great relationship the last five years, and definitely a reason that I wanted to stay here and I wanted to come back and play,” Flanagan said. “Just kind of having him here, the whole process was awesome. CL does a great job with kind of keeping us (in the bullpen) constantly in the loop. He’s the one that’s really thinking ahead.”

Look for Flanagan to pitch at least once during this weekend’s series against Washington State (9-18, 2-10 Pac-12) and possibly more. Same goes for Tuesday’s nonconference game against New Mexico State, as well as the upcoming road trip to Utah and Creighton where the Wildcats play five games in six days.

Arizona (21-8, 9-3) has a chance to add to its 1.5-game lead in the Pac-12 standings over the next two weeks, taking on the teams that were picked to finish in the bottom third of the league. Its next 13 games are against teams currently ranked outside the top 100 in the RPI.

Bullard turning a corner?

Third baseman Tony Bullard, who hit two home runs against ASU on Tuesday, is still only at about 80 percent according to Hale. He entered that game batting just .152 with one RBI in 11 starts as he’s working back from a shoulder injury that kept him on the shelf until March 5.

Bullard has struck out 20 times in 53 plate appearances.

“He’s really been tied up with his mechanics,” Hale said. “Sometimes, and we’ve all fallen prey to this, we get so worried about where we’re striding and where our hands are going instead of just sort of competing. He did a lot of work on Monday on his own, looked at video, and just decided he was going to compete up there and it worked out for him.

“Hitting is tough, it depends on the pitcher on the mound that day. We tell him that all the time. We just want him to be consistent, so if you can just take that consistent approach and hit two or three home runs a game we’ll be in good shape.”

Injury updates

  • Hale said right-hander Dawson Netz (2-1, 4.76) is unlikely to be able to pitch Sunday after missing his last start due to arm tendonitis. The hope is he could return for the New Mexico State game, or pitch on the upcoming road trip.

In his place, either righty Chandler Murphy (0-0, 8.59) or righty Anthony Susac (1-1, 9.00) will start. Hale said Murphy, who himself is coming back from a forearm injury, was limited to just the first two innings in Tuesday’s loss at ASU so he could pitch again Sunday, while Susac started for Netz last Sunday at Washington.

  • Outfielder Blake Paugh, who hasn’t played since Feb. 26 due to an oblique injury, could return to action this weekend. Paugh started the first seven games of the season, hitting .286 with five RBI and eight walks.
  • Infielder Jack Grant, who played in two games last weekend at Washington after missing almost three weeks with a knee injury, is still getting comfortable at the plate, Hale said. He suffered the knee injury on a swing against Cal on March 12.