That collective sigh you may have heard coming from Hi Corbett Field was Arizona getting back into the win column in Pac-12 play for the first time in nearly a month.
The Wildcats beat Washington 12-4 on Friday night, snapping a 10-game conference skid and putting themselves in position for their first series win since opening the league slate with a home sweep of Cal in early March.
“I knew it was coming,” third baseman Tony Bullard said. “We’re a very good team. It was just bound to happen. We just put all the things together in order to win one.”
Bullard had three doubles, tying a school record and being the first Wildcat to do so in Pac-12 play since 2019, as Arizona (15-13, 4-10 Pac-12) had 10 extra-base hits and scored in six of eight innings. It also got stellar outings from both starting pitcher Bradon Zastrow and “reliever” TJ Nichols, who picked up his first career save by throwing four shutout innings.
“I told TJ before the game, once you come in you’re gonna finish the game,” UA coach Chip Hale said.
Nichols, who had been exclusively a starter since the beginning of last season and had started the opening game every weekend this spring, was moved to the bullpen after allowing eight runs in 1.2 innings last Friday against Oregon. The move isn’t permanent, Hale said.
“He’s going to be back in the starting rotation at some point,” Hale said. “We just want to get him right. get him some confidence, get him rolling a little bit. He did a really wonderful job. When he’s down (in the zone) he’s very effective.”
Said Nichols: “They said I was gonna pitch important innings, and I was excited to get that role going. I feel comfortable out of the bullpen or as a starter.”
Zastrow went the first five, allowing four runs on eight hits. He retired nine in a row at one point, the longest stretch Arizona pitchers had gone without allowing a baserunner since March 21 against Utah Tech, before giving up back-to-back doubles in the top of the fourth and two more hits in the fifth.
Washington (19-9, 5-5) had gotten within 8-4 at that point, after the Wildcats had scored eight in the first three innings. That would have been the point in most games during the skid when Arizona’s offense would fail to respond, most notably last Saturday when it led 10-0 after two innings but only scored once more the rest of the way and lost 13-11.
“You could look down the line and guys were ... their eyes started getting googled out,” Hale said. “I was real proud of the guys. I think we’ve been playing hard as can be.”
Instead, the UA added two more in the bottom of the fifth (benefitting from two of Washington’s four errors) and another in the sixth on back-to-back doubles from Mason White and Bullard.
Bullard is 4 for 8 with three RBI and four runs scored in the past two games after missing five contests with a concussion after getting hit in the helmet by a pitch March 25 at ASU. He stayed in that game a few innings before realizing something was wrong.
“My eyes started feeling weird, and one of the trainers saw me and they’re like, ‘oh, are you okay?,” he said. “I was like, I think so, but my eyes feel a little weird. That’s when they (pulled) me.”
Hale said Bullard was stellar in an intrasquad game earlier in the week and was hoping that would carry over to the weekend.
“I’m just seeing the ball really well right now,” Bullard said.
White, who entered the game at second base for Garen Caulfield in the top of the second—Hale said it was because Caulfield didn’t run out a pop up to end the bottom of the first—added a 452-foot solo homer in the eighth and was 3 for 3 with four runs scored despite not starting. He’s 7 for 15 with six runs scored in his last four games, raising his average to .274.
Arizona will try for its first consecutive victories since winning nine in a row from Feb. 26-March 12 in Saturday’s 12 p.m. PT series finale. The Wildcats can still finish .500 in the Pac-12 if they win every remaining series.
“It’s out there,” he said. “It’s attainable, but we have to play better, we have to pitch better, we know that. But I told them before the game, I’m so proud of what they’ve done. It’s not professional baseball. They don’t eat, sleep and drink baseball. They gotta go to class. They gotta go to tutoring sessions. They’ve been doing an unbelievable job. They’ll be doing papers in there when we’re done. We just haven’t been winning games, and that’s the unfortunate thing, because I do think we’ve been playing decent baseball.”