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Arizona baseball hits road for must-win series at Oregon State with another Friday starter

arizona-wildcats-baseball-preview-oregon-state-beavers-cam-walty-pac12-kiko-romero-corvallis-knights Arizona Athletics

The last time Arizona played at Oregon State, it came home with a share of its first conference title in nine years. This time around, the Wildcats just want to come back with their postseason hopes intact.

The UA (23-15, 9-12 Pac-12) is playing its best baseball since early March, heading into this weekend’s 3-game series against the Beavers (27-13, 11-10) with a 6-game win streak and nine victories in the last 11 contests. But it is just 2-8 in true road games, losing the opener in all three conference series.

Arizona hasn’t won the first game of a road series in more than a year, but it’s hoping another change on the mound could fix that. Right-hander Cam Walty, who has thrown 13 scoreless innings since moving into the rotation—in midweek games, however—will be the Wildcats’ fourth different series-opening starter of 2023.

“We’re gonna keep trying guys and giving guys chances, so hopefully he’ll run with it,” UA coach Chip Hale said. “He’s a guy that’s done it before, a veteran who started. We saw him here start really good against us.”

Hale’s first impression of Walty, a year ago at Hi Corbett Field, was a pretty good one. Walty pitched Nevada to a complete game shutout of Arizona, ending the Wildcats’ 216-game scoring streak.

The UA coach had no idea Walty would be on the market a few months later, but Hale says now the team is mentally taking notes about opposing players.

“I think this year, we definitely look at other teams and say, ‘whoa, I wonder if he’ll ever go in the portal,’” Hale said.

Walty would have been starting all season had an oblique injury not popped up at the end of the preseason. That delayed his UA debut to early March, and as a reliever, and his four outings out of the pen left him with a 10.57 ERA.

Never a max-power pitcher, Walty said a few “tweaks” in his mechanics have since led him to improve his fastball from 89-90 to 93, but overall location is his main weapon.

“Hitting location is better than kind of maybe having some more velo and throwing it over the plate,” said Walty, who has allowed seven hits with 16 strikeouts since leaving the bullpen. “The hitters are just as good as the pitchers, so it’s like when you’re able to put a ball in a spot where it’s harder for them to hit it on the good part of the bat, whether it’s slower or harder, it just makes it easier for a pitcher to get worse contact, basically.”

Playoff mode

Arizona still follows the “try to go 1-0 every day” mantra, but since dropping 10 consecutive Pac-12 games Hale said the team has acted like it’s already in the postseason. That may have contributed to the Wildcats winning nine of 11, including six of eight in the conference after a 3-10 start.

“Bottom line is we can’t afford any more hiccups,” Hale said. “We’re gonna get beat, and that’s fine. We just can’t give any games away.”

The Wildcats have held the lead at some point in every road game, but usually early only to give it up in the middle innings. Last time out, though, they trailed 4-1 going to the seventh only to win 14-8 at Washington State.

“The whole series at Wazzu I think we were hitting, and I think the end kind of really blew it open and hopefully that gets more confidence in some younger players, and even some older players,” center fielder Mac Bingham said. “We just gotta get used to it on the road.”

Arizona’s RPI entering the weekend is 53, five spots ahead of USC and nine places in front of Maryland, two teams currently has in its projected NCAA Tournament field. OSU, at No. 33, provides the Wildcats with three chances to add to their 3-11 record against Quad 1 opponents.

A Wildcat homecoming in Beaver Country

Several UA players have played at Oregon State before, with third baseman Tony Bullard and outfielder Tyler Casagrande making their third trip to Corvallis. Casagrande hit his lone career home run at Goss Stadium in 2021, a series the Wildcats won to clinch a share of the Pac-12 regular season title, but he doesn’t really remember that feat.

“I think I blacked out,” Casagrande said. “I don’t even think I was supposed to hit. I don’t know how I got up. I think we must have scored a couple runs.”

But no one on the roster is more familiar with Goss than Kiko Romero, who spent the past two summers playing for the Corvallis Knights in the West Coast League. Using wood bats, Romero hit .246 with eight home runs and 56 RBI in 87 games.

“I think Kiko is excited to go back there,” Hale said of Romero, who is hitting .375 this season with 12 homers and a conference-best 56 RBI. “He had a great experience. He loves going up there and playing, he says, and so I hope it’s an advantage.”

The weekend matchup

Oregon State is last in the Pac-12 in batting, hitting just .225 in 21 Pac-12 games while scoring 5.3 runs per game. The Beavers scored 30 runs at ASU last weekend but lost two of three as their pitching, among the best in the league, faltered.

Still, OSU has a team ERA of 3.69, compared to Arizona’s 5.36.

Arizona is hitting .321 in Pac-12 play and has recorded at least 10 base hits in 14 consecutive games. Chase Davis and Mason White bring 14-game hit streaks into the weekend. White is hitting .400 in Pac-12 play.

The Beavers are 14-4 at home this season, 6-3 in Pac-12 play, and haven’t lost there since March 25.