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Arizona relying heavily on Taylor McQuillin in 2018

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The left-hander is pitching more than ever this season, but also better than ever

Photo courtesy Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics

Taylor McQuillin has never pitched more than 128 innings in a season at Arizona. That is about to change.

The junior left-hander has already logged 103 innings this year, even though the ninth-ranked Wildcats have yet to reach the midpoint of their season.

But McQuillin is Arizona’s ace now after two years of being Danielle O’Toole’s understudy, and she understands that kind of usage comes with the territory.

“You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” McQuillin said.

Arizona (24-3) swept Utah last weekend to begin Pac-12 play, and the Wildcats relied heavily on McQuillin’s arm to do it. She appeared in all three games of the series, starting in games one and three and closing out game two in relief.

In all, she pitched 17 (of 21) innings in the series, allowing just two earned runs.

That type of workload could become the norm for McQuillin as the Wildcats get deeper into their arduous Pac-12 conference schedule.

Head coach Mike Candrea is OK with that — “so far, so good,” he said — though he admitted he would like to get a little bit more from the rest of the pitching staff, which has had its fair share of ups and downs.

“We would have liked to get one more inning, but yeah it becomes crucial that you don’t pile up the innings on (McQuillin),” Candrea said. “But on the other hand, you have to take one game at a time. If you have a chance to win a game, you put your best foot forward and right now she’s throwing quite well, so we have the confidence in her.”

McQuillin is pitching more than ever, but also better than ever.

The southpaw has a 0.75 earned run average this season, a stark improvement from the solid 1.92 mark she posted as a sophomore. Her strikeout numbers are up and opposing teams are hitting just .139 against her.

The keys to McQuillin’s improvement, Candrea said, have been sharper off-speed pitches and her newfound ability to control the inside part of the strike zone, which prevents hitters from leaning out over the plate.

Meanwhile, the hard-throwing lefty believes her improved conditioning has allowed her to pitch more often without a noticeable drop off in her effectiveness.

“I think the stuff that we do in the fall for conditioning and weightlifting, and even in the spring right when we come back and the season starts, and even the stuff we do now everyday in the weight room or conditioning as a team, all that stuff has prepared us for games like that, for moments like that,” McQuillin said of the Utah series.

“She’s in better shape, no doubt,” Candrea agreed. “I think right now she’s confident. And when you’re confident you want the ball. I think she feels like right now she’s got a repertoire that she can get people out with. I think (pitching coach) Taryne (Mowatt)’s done a really nice job with her ... giving her a little different look. But the other thing is her mindset, what it takes to go out there everyday and be able to compete and keep it at a high level.”

Mowatt certainly knows a thing or two about that. In 2007, the Arizona legend tossed 370 innings, and threw every pitch for the Wildcats in the College World Series.

“Your conditioning becomes a big part of it, because as we go on (the weather is) going to get a bit warmer, but I think more than anything there’s some pitchers that love having the ball,” Candrea said.

McQuillin is one of them, even though she knows appearing in every game of a series like she did against Utah — and will probably do this weekend at No. 1 Washington — puts her at a competitive disadvantage.

“Obviously on day three (opponents have) seen you two days in a row,” she said. “Like yeah, they’re going to adjust a little bit, but I think it just shows that our pitching staff has to be stronger in situations like that.

“That’s something that we’re still learning how to deal with. But overall I know I have a great defense behind me, I know that our team is making great adjustments in the box every at-bat, and I gotta keep working for them how they’re working for me.”