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Reyna Carranco’s return date is unclear; Jenna Kean stepping up in her absence

The Wildcats might be without their steady second baseman for a while

Jason Bartel

The Arizona Wildcats are currently without star second baseman Reyna Carranco, and it’s unclear when she will return to the lineup.

The sophomore took a 70 MPH fastball to the face last Friday when the Wildcats were in Washington.

The blow left Carranco with a concussion and facial fracture, which required surgery.

“The concussion is the one thing that’s holding her back,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said. “I think once she gets cleared from the concussion, she can start doing some stuff.”

Candrea is encouraged by the progress Carranco has made since the injury, but admitted it could take some time for her to regain her usual form even after she’s cleared.

“Let’s face it, you get hit by a 70-mile an-hour pitch, it’s going to take a little while to get her comfortable and back,” he said.

Then again, maybe not. Carranco is described as a “flatliner” by Candrea, so stepping back into the box after such a horrifying incident might not faze her like it would others.

“She’s a different kid,” he said. “She doesn’t show any emotion so she may be one of those kids that can come back and just take off where she left it. But that was a scary moment.”

It could have been scarier had Carranco not been wearing a mask. The pitch from Washington right-hander Taran Alvelo got wedged between the mask and brim of Carranco’s helmet, limiting the overall damage.

“I’ve never seen a ball get stuck in a mask,” said Candrea, who’s been the head coach at Arizona since 1986. “It’s crazy because for lots of years we played without masks. And you look at baseball, you don’t see a mask in baseball. But the last six or seven years, I’ve seen more kids get hit in the face. And the thing that’s scary about it is the concussion part.

“I don’t know if you remember back when Stacie Chambers was here, Stacie swung at a pitch and it came up and hit her without a mask, and it took her a year to get back to normal.

“You think it’s easy to sit there and turn your head when you see a ball coming at you, but Reyna takes pitches differently, so she had no chance of getting her head turned. But I’m just glad where she’s at right now. I think she’ll be fine.”

In the meantime, Candrea has to figure out how to replace one of Arizona’s most consistent players as it continues Pac-12 play.

Carranco, who normally bats second, is hitting .388 with eight doubles, two homers, and 21 RBIs, along with a .459 on-base percentage, all while providing steady defense.

With her out, Arizona’s positioning has been a game of musical chairs.

Senior center fielder Ashleigh Hughes has shifted to second base, forcing right fielder Aleah Craighton to slide over to center. Freshman Jenna Kean, who hadn’t been playing much when Carranco was healthy, now patrols right field.

“First thing you have to look at is defensively where we’re going to be the best,” Candrea said after Thursday’s 3-0 win vs. Cal. “And what caused that to happen is having some maturity on the field, and Ashleigh has played second. I mean, she’s comfortable there. And right now with all the young kids that we have, it’s just the right thing tonight to put some stability there. That then forced me to use Jenna in the outfield.”

Of course, Arizona’s lineup has changed, and thinned, too.

Hughes has been moved from the nine-spot in the order to No. 2 in Carranco’s stead, while Kean has taken Hughes’ place at the bottom of the order.

The left-handed Kean is batting just .242 this season, and said she has been struggling at the plate.

So have most of UA’s 7-8-9 hitters this season.

“For a while, we have been absolutely vacant down there,” Candrea said. “It’s been maybe one runner on base throughout a game.”

They did show life in Thursday’s win, though.

Redshirt freshman left fielder Carli Campbell, who bats eighth, had a hit, a walk, and scored a run. No. 7 hitter Tamara Statman walked and her pinch runner, Jaycee Lindley, later scored.

Kean, who changed her approach by swinging instead of slapping, went 1-for-2 with two key RBIs.

“She stepped up for sure,” Hughes said.

“Jenna is going to be a good player,” Candrea added. “She’s just young and has a hard time slowing the game down. As do lots of our young kids right now.”

For Kean, the pair of RBIs — which were the first two of her career — were a much-needed confidence boost.

Arizona, now 4-3 in the Pac-12, needs her to produce until Carranco returns, whenever that may be.

“It’s funny about this game sometimes, because a lot of times you can look at the bottom of the order and when 7-8-9 hitters are on-base, good things happen,” Candrea said. “...So hopefully they’ll stay hot and continue to find a way.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire