Arizona began its fall season with an impressive win over a Mexican professional club, a victory paced by its overhauled pitching staff. That wasn’t a fluke performance.
Eleven Wildcat pitchers combined to strike out 20 batters in a doubleheader sweep of Central Arizona College on Saturday afternoon at Hi Corbett Field. The UA won the first game 14-5 before taking the nightcap 9-1.
Six of the arms used are in their first year of the program, but all are essentially starting over on the mound with Arizona overhauling the pitching part of its coaching staff. Gone is veteran assistant Dave Lawn, now at TCU, and in his place is pitching coach Kevin Vance and player development director John DeRouin.
Their goal, according to head coach Chip Hale, is to maximize the positives through a mix of technology and toughness.
“Just to get each guy to be good at what he’s best, and figuring out what that is,” Hale said. “Their stuff is getting better, as you can see from the results, but just the way they’re going about it, the way they’ve kind of rallied around each other, it’s been cool. It’s been very much a bright spot for us.”
DeRouin posted a thread on Twitter earlier this week about the progress left-handed starter Bradon Zastrow has made since last season, a breakdown that will come off like gibberish to many but is already making sense to Arizona’s pitchers.
“I think that we’ve already had a lot of progress, and I don’t even think we’re done yet,” said senior closer Trevor Long, who threw a scoreless inning to finish the opening game. “I think we still have a lot to come. And we still have a whole spring.”
Arizona only had two runs on as many hits through the first six innings of the first game before scoring nine times in the bottom of the seventh. Junior college transfer Brandon Rogers and sophomore Brendan Summerhill had 2-run singles, while freshman Andrew Cain had a 3-run home run.
Redshirt freshman Kade Huff was a triple shy of the cycle in the second game, hitting a 2-run homer and driving in three, and freshmen Xavier Esquer and Easton Breyfogle both had quality at-bats starting both games.
“A lot of our veterans guys have gotten dinged up a bit, so we’ve kept them out of these games,” Hale said, noting that Emilio Corona and Mason White are dealing with arm injuries that kept them out of the field. “It’s been a great opportunity to get the young guys in there. These are important times for them to show us their baseball acuity.”
Arizona also stole a combined eight bases on Saturday, with Hale saying that as well as the short game will be a much bigger part of the Wildcats’ offense in 2024.
“I think we have more speed this year,” he said. “I think we’re gonna hit fine, but are we going to slug like we have in the past few years? I don’t know, we’ll see. Maybe we will, but we have to have the ability to score in more than just one way of just hit the ball on the fence.”
The team wraps up fall ball with its annual Wild vs. Cats intrasquad games Friday and Saturday. The player-run scrimmages will include rosters drafted on Monday.
The 2024 season begins Feb. 16 at home against Northeastern.