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Dawson Netz, Tommy Splaine thriving in new roles for Arizona baseball

arizona-wildcats-baseball-dawson-netz-tommy-splaine-reliever-catcher-daniel-susac-cameron-laliberte Arizona Athletics

He opened the series-clinching win over Ole Miss to send Arizona to the College World Series in 2021, and last season was on the mound to start the Wildcats’ NCAA regional elimination game against Miami, which they rallied late to win.

But now when Dawson Netz comes into games, as one of the UA’s most valued relievers, the intensity is turned up to 10 right away.

Not for him, though.

“I pretty much operate at a five in whatever role I’m going in,” Netz said. “I feel like it’s easy to repeat inning in and anything out every game.”

Netz, a junior right-hander, is one of two returners from last season who find themselves in new roles. The other is sophomore Tommy Splaine, after being Arizona’s primary first baseman in 2022 is now splitting catching duties with junior Cameron LaLiberte.

Both Netz and Splaine are thriving. Netz has allowed one baserunner in four appearances, all of which have begun with at least one runner one yet none have come in to score. Splaine is hitting .400 with three RBI in four starts, getting at least one hit in each game and going 3 for 4 in his last start.

Netz has bounced back and forth between starting and relieving in his UA career, making 14 starts between 2020-22 including nine last season. He began last year as the Sunday starter before tendonitis limited him to one appearance over a 7-week span.

Offseason discussions with coach Chip Hale and pitching coach Dave Lawn led to moving Netz permanently to the pen. So far it’s been as one of the first arms out of the pen, but that could change as the year goes on.

“He basically becomes our closer at this point in the sixth, seventh, fifth inning, wherever ever it is, when we need to get those big outs,” Hale said. “Now does it mean he’s not going to close the ninth inning in Pac-12 play? No it doesn’t, we’ll see where we’re at. We hope our starters get deeper and deeper as we go, and we push our big relievers, the guys that we feel comfortable with (further) back in the game, to the big innings.”

Shorter outings means Netz can go full bore without having to pace himself, if he so chooses. He probably won’t, though.

“It’s easy out of the pen to get carried away, coming in with a bunch of adrenaline, trying to throw 100, throw the nastiest breaking ball that you got,” he said. “The most important thing is just to hit your spots and throw a lot of strikes. I don’t like to pitch all jacked up on like caffeine or adrenaline. I think the biggest thing is not making the moment bigger than it is, and just focusing on throwing strikes, not overthrowing.

“I’m just happy whenever they put the ball in my hand. I’m just trying to make the most of every opportunity they can give me.”

For Splaine, almost all of his time in the field in 2022 was at a position he wasn’t recruited to play. A pitcher/catcher in high school, he made one appearance on the mound and got seven starts behind the plate compared to 28 at first.

“It was something I really enjoyed,” Splaine said of first base. “I just enjoy a challenge and anything to do to help my team win.”

Splaine and LaLiberte, who is batting .474 with seven RBI, have the impossible task of replacing All-American Daniel Susac, a first-round MLB pick who anchored Arizona’s defense the last two seasons. Splaine said he was able to regularly pick the brain of Susac last year, and Hale is more than happy with what his catching duo is doing.

“It’s been yeoman’s work so far, and we’re extremely, extremely happy with it,” Hale said.

Hale said before the season that the plan was for Splaine and LaLiberte to alter starts at catcher, which would put Splaine in line to be behind the plate for Friday’s series opener against North Dakota, with the intention to go identify the everyday guy before Pac-12 play begins March 10.

That plan made need to change if both keep hitting like they do while also handling their defensive duties.

“Those two guys are like the same guy out there,” Hale said.

If one ends up winning out, and getting more playing time than the other, it’s unlikely there will be any animosity.

“We’re best buddies on the field and off,” Splaine said of LaLiberte. “We’re always pushing each other. We don’t hold a grudge against each other or anything like that. We’re always just pushing each other and always supporting each other.”