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Arizona softball: Mike Candrea shakes up the Wildcats’ lineup after their bats go cold at Utah

Alyssa Palomino moves from third to sixth in Arizona’s batting order

Alyssa Palomino
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Mike Candrea considers himself to be a “stability guy.” Ideally, he wouldn’t have to make many day-to-day changes to Arizona’s lineup.

But he also considers softball to be a game of averages, and sometimes the numbers tell him a change is needed.

“We got a pretty good number of stats right now and over 40 games-plus you start looking up percentages and you start looking at the big picture,” he said.

The big picture told him that he needed to move Alyssa Palomino down in the order from third to sixth.

The highly-touted redshirt freshman center fielder got off to a hot start to the season, but is only hitting .239 with a .327 on-base percentage in Pac-12 play (though she is slugging a whopping .696).

“Hopefully she’ll get some better pitches,” Candrea said. “I think it doesn’t really matter in this lineup where you are. You’ve got a responsibility to get 60 feet and so my big thing with her right now is that she’s being aggressive and that she’s making hard contact, but the lineup I thought needed a little bit of a shake up.”

Candrea made the change after Arizona’s offense struggled at Utah, where the Wildcats mustered just 10 runs in three games as they lost their first series of the season.

Candrea said he thinks Palomino and fellow freshman Jessie Harper, who were a combined 1-for-19 during the series, are pressing for the first time this season.

“It’s gonna happen to anyone, but freshmen in particular,” he said. “They’ve been on a wave and they haven’t lost many times, so I think one of the most difficult things in this game is being able to respond when things happen and I thought they were just trying too hard.”

Harper’s conference stats haven’t dipped like Palomino’s — Harper is slashing .333/.373/.833 in Pac-12 play — hence why it was Palomino who was dropped in the order.

Harper now hits fifth, one spot ahead of Palomino. Mo Mercado, who was previously hitting fifth, now hits fourth.

“It just kind of happened,” Palomino said. “But anyway I see it, I’m in the lineup and I have to get the job done no matter where I’m at in it. That’s how we all feel. One through nine can get the job done so it didn’t really matter where I was. I just know that I had to keep pushing and keep trying to get runs for this team.”

Candrea’s new lineup worked, albeit the results were against a non-Pac-12 team.

The Wildcats rebounded from their offensive outage in Salt Lake City with two high-powered performances in a two-game sweep of New Mexico State on Tuesday.

Arizona scored 19 runs in the pair of wins and hit eight homers in Las Cruces, one of which was off the bat of Palomino.

“We’re just fortunate right now that we have a 3-4-5-6 hitter that we can interchange,” Candrea said of Palomino.

While the top of the order underwent some changes, the bottom third of the order remains intact and for good reason.

Tamara Statman, Reyna Carranco, and Ashleigh Hughes — the team’s 7-8-9 hitters — have been swinging the bat as well as the top of the order, if not better, and have been continually setting the table for the rest of the team.

“This lineup can be very good and the impressive thing about our lineup, and people don’t talk much about it, is really the kid that’s been the hottest lately is Reyna Carranco,” Candrea said. “Our 8 and 9 hitters in Reyna and Ashleigh Hughes, if you look at the stats in conference, those two are leading the team in hitting.”

Carranco, a freshman who got off to a slow start to the season, is hitting .421 in Pac-12 play. Hughes is hitting .400. Both players have on-base percentages over .500.

Candrea expects them to play a key role in Arizona’s upcoming three-game series against No. 6 Oregon this weekend.

“[At] Utah, we just left a lot of runners on base and couldn’t get the key hit,” he said. “And that’s going to be the name of the game from here on out.”

Arizona leads the conference in batting average (.350), slugging percentage (.614), on-base percentage (.447), runs scored (368), homers (79), and nearly every other offensive category.

But Oregon is second in ERA (1.21) so something will have to give this weekend.

“Oregon’s a great team so we’re expecting a dogfight every game,” Mercado said.

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire