The Arizona softball team is nearing full strength.
Second baseman Reyna Carranco has cleared concussion protocol, fully practiced Tuesday, and is expected to travel with the team this weekend to its three-game series at No. 5 Oregon.
The sophomore has missed the last five games after taking a 70 MPH pitch to the face on March 23 at Washington. The blow left her with a concussion and facial fracture, which required surgery.
“Reyna is looking good right now,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said Wednesday. “She worked out yesterday, she’s cleared her concussion test, she put a mask on, she looked good defensively, she swung the bat well.”
Even though Carranco is progressing nicely, Candrea isn’t sure when she will return to the lineup. He cautioned that it can take a while for players to get back to their usual selves after being shaken the way Carranco was.
Candrea said it took former Wildcat Stacie Chambers a whole year to get back up to speed after she foul-tipped a pitch off her face. But Candrea is optimistic Carranco will bounce back quickly because of her stoic temperament.
“The thing about Reyna, and I’ve said this a million times, she’s a flatliner so she doesn’t get too emotional about things,” he said. “And I think this could be an advantage for her, coming back as quickly as we hoped that she can. I haven’t really set a timeline right now, but when she’s ready and tells me she’s ready, she’ll be in the lineup because she makes us better.”
Carranco is an instrumental cog in Arizona’s offense. The sophomore, who usually bats second, is hitting .386/.455/.545 this season with two homers, eight doubles, and 21 RBIs. She is also one of UA’s steadiest fielders.
Carranco has been replaced by senior Ashleigh Hughes, whose versatility has been a luxury.
Hughes, who was starting in center prior to Carranco’s injury, has been one of UA’s most productive hitters since Carranco went down, including a walk-off homer in Friday’s 3-2 win against Cal.
Hughes started 52 games at second base as a sophomore in 2016, but the transition back to the position hasn’t been easy. She has made three errors in the last three games.
“It’s a big deal,” Hughes said of moving back to second. “I haven’t seen ground balls in two years, but it’s not the end of the world. I’m glad I can step up.
“I mean, I’m a senior. I’m old now. It’s nothing new. I feel like every year someone has gone down and I’ve had to step up. Luckily that’s the good part about being a true utility, being able to step up in those situations when he needs me to.”
After Saturday’s win vs. Cal, Candrea pulled Dejah Mulipola aside to offer her some words of encouragement.
The sophomore catcher is in a brutal slump, tallying just one hit in her last 18 at-bats.
Without her usual power and production in the middle of the order — Mulipola has eight homers this season — Arizona’s offense has been less potent than usual lately.
And the Wildcats’ next three series are against teams ranked inside the Top 7, so it is crucial for them to get their star catcher going.
Candrea isn’t worried.
“I believe in Dejah,” he said after Mulipola went 0-for-4 on Saturday. “She’s, to me, the best catcher in the country. And offensively right now she’s kinda separating right now and getting a little bit long. So we gotta work on that. So I want her to look at some video and work on her swings and we got a find a fix for that.
“But we don’t want her to be walking out of here and being in the dumps over that. She does a lot of things for this team if she didn’t hit any. But it’s just giving her a little bit of assurance.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire