Baseball Hits Road For First Time
March 31, 2010
No. 20 Arizona (20-5, 2-1 Pac-10) at California (13-10, 0-3 Pac-10)
Berkeley, Calif. | Evans Diamond
Series Schedule/Probable Starting Pitchers
Some Series Themes: Arizona hits the road for the first time in 2010 as it brings a 2-1 conference record into the series against California which is looking to rebound from an opening weekend sweep to Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., last weekend … Two of the league’s top hitting clubs will face off as the Wildcats lead the conference with a .372 team average while the Golden Bears hit an impressive .332 … Both teams will send RHP-LHP-RHP pitchers to the mound to start the three games … Arizona’s Game 1 starter, Kurt Heyer, will get his start on a mound not located at Kindall Field … Arizona’s speed game (61 stolen bases in 78 attempts) will go up against the Golden Bears who have allowed 23 steals in 34 attempts … Arizona has hit a homer in eight straight games, but has just 16 on the season, while Cal is third in the conference with 20 round-trippers … Two of the league’s top catchers on UA’s Jett Bandy (.470, 5 HR, 27 RBI) and Cal’s Chadd Krist (.432, 5 HR, 23 RBI) are sure to factor into the outcome of the series … UA looks to bounce back from its first loss in the last 16 games, while the Golden Bears look to pick up some momentum from a mid-week victory over Fresno State after losing seven of the previous 10 games.
Series History: The Wildcats and Golden Bears have met 161 times on the baseball diamond in a series that dates back to 1951. Arizona owns a 95-66 edge in the all-time series. Last season, Arizona swept the series in Tucson to begin the final month of play in May. In 2008, the Bears won 2-of-3 in Berkeley.
UA-Oregon Series Recap: The Wildcats earned a series victory over Oregon to open conference play by winning the first two games of the series to improve their winning streak to 15 games before the Ducks captured the third game of the series … UA continued its hot first half of the season offensively by hitting .383 as a team in the series and posting 25 runs … Steve Selsky paced the Cats with an 8-for-13 series at the plate, including a pair of home runs to go with six RBI and seven runs scored … UA collected 41 hits in the series, but just seven went for extra bases … Kurt Heyer picked up his fourth win of the season on Friday, while Bryce Bandilla earned his third victory on Saturday … UA’s pitching staff struggled some on Sunday as it issued six walks with just three strikeouts and Nick Cunningham allowed four runs in the ninth as the Ducks overcame the Wildcats, 9-8 … The Wildcats turned six double plays on the ground on the weekend and seven total … UA hitters struck out 26 times in the three games, the most for any single series this season … The Cats stole six bases in nine attempts.
Cats in the Rankings: Arizona checks in the Top 25 of all major collegiate baseball polls this week. The USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll tabs the Wildcats No. 20 in the nation, while Collegiate Baseball ranks Arizona No. 18 and Baseball America No. 22.
Approaching 1,000 Wins: Arizona head coach Andy Lopez is quickly approaching one of the greatest coaching milestones: 1,000 Division I career victories. To date, Lopez has 989 career victories, and is one of four coaches within reach of the milestone this season. Already this year, Ohio State’s Bob Todd and LSU’s Paul Mainieri, and Sam Houston State’s Mark Johnson have reached 1,000 Division I coaching victories. Next in line could be South Carolina’s Ray Tanner (995) and Rutgers’ Fred Hill (992). Currently, 43 coaches have reached the milestone. Lopez’s career Division I coaching record is 989-607-7 (.620).
300 Wins: Arizona coach Andy Lopez already has reached one coaching milestone this season: 300 wins as the skipper of the Wildcats. UA’s 11-7 victory over New Mexico on March 24 marked win No. 300 in Lopez’s nine seasons in Tucson. At Arizona, Lopez holds a record of 302-189-1 (.615).
UA’s 15-Game Winning Streak: Arizona mounted a 15-game winning streak from March 7 – March 27, the sixth-longest winning streak in program history and the seventh-longest home winning streak. Included in the streak were wins over Cal State Fullerton (1), Saint Joseph’s (2), Northern Colorado (3), Wichita State (2), Sacramento State (3), New Mexico (2) and Oregon (2).
What a Difference a Year Makes: Through the first 25 games of 2010, the Wildcats have show significant statistical improvement over the 2009 season. Here’s a look at how the two seasons stack up:
Year Record Avg. Runs Hits BB SO SLG% OB% SB-ATT ERA K’s BB
2009 13-12 .310 206 278 89 184 .504 .385 41-49 5.60 197 113
2010 20-5 .372 242 341 105 118 .516 .451 61-78 3.96 202 89
‘K’urt Heyer: Entering this week’s action, freshman Kurt Heyer is tied for third amongst all Pac-10 pitchers with 48 strikeouts. Of his 48 strikeouts, 24 have been looking, which checks in tops in the league. Heyer’s arm has accounted for 48 of UA’s 202 strikeouts as a team (23.8 percent) despite throwing just 17.4 percent of UA’s innings as a team.
Heyer Standards: Arizona freshman pitcher Kurt Heyer set the bar pretty high for himself in his collegiate debut. He was named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week and one of “Louisville Slugger’s” National Player’s of the week as announced by Collegiate Baseball for his effort against Utah Valley. Additionally, CollegeBaseballInsider.com named Heyer as its West Region Pitcher of the Week. In just six innings of work, the 6-foot-2 right hander struck out 13 batters, tying for second-most ever in a single game by a UA freshman pitcher. A native of Huntington Beach, Calif., Heyer struck out 13 of the 22 batters he faced, allowing just one run on three hits and only one walk. Heyer’s performance paced the Wildcat pitching staff to 17 strikeouts, the most for a UA staff in a single game since the Wichita Regional opening game against Oral Roberts in 2007. Heyer’s 13 strikeouts were the most for a UA pitcher in over two seasons, dating back to Preston Guilmet’s masterful 15-strikeout performance against Stanford in 2007.
No. 2 Guy: For the third weekend in a row, Bryce Bandilla will get the nod as the starter on Saturday. Bandilla, who began the year penciled in as the closer, has shown significant improvement in his consistency from his freshman to sophomore seasons as he has returned to the starting rotation. Bandilla has lowered his ERA from 6.20 a season ago to a respectable 3.55 mark in 2010. The key has undoubtedly been better control and confidence in secondary pitches, which has flipped his strikeout:walk ratio in a much more positive direction. In 49.1 innings a year ago, the left-hander had more walks (32) than strikeouts (30). This season he has 35 strikeouts – second on the club – and just 13 walks in 38.0 innings pitched.
Simon Says: Arizona sophomore right-hander Kyle Simon has steadied himself after an up-and-down start to the season. Simon won his first decision of the year on Feb 21 against Utah Valley in an eight-inning effort in which he allowed just one run and struck out seven. He then struggled in his next two starts and saw his ERA peak at 5.06 following a second-straight loss on March 6 against Cal State Fullerton. Since, Simon has been brilliant, picking up three wins in four starts to improve his record to 4-2 and lower his ERA to 3.45. Two weeks ago, Simon picked up a pair of victories (one in a mid-week start against Wichita State and another on Sunday against Sacramento State) , and last week earned a victory in relief on Wednesday against New Mexico. In his last 28.1 innings pitched, Simon has allowed just 11 runs – eight earned – and has 12 strikeouts against eight walks.
Save What? Despite having the second-most wins of any Pac-10 team, Arizona is tied for the fewest saves of any team – two. There are several plausible explanations for that. First, UA has lacked a go-to pitcher that has performed well in the role as a closer. Bryce Bandilla got the first crack, then Nick Cunningham and Tyler Hale. While all have been solid overall, no one has claimed the job permanently, and recently Cory Bernard has had a few ninth-inning appearances despite no save situations. Last week, UA’s 15-game winning streak was snapped after Nick Cunningham allowed four runs in the ninth and Oregon won 9-8. A second reason for the lack of saves is the fact that Arizona has 15 wins with margins of victory greater than four runs, including five games with double-digit margins. Lastly, when Arizona has failed to close out games on the mound, it has had the luxury to do so at the plate. Playing all games at home to date, Arizona is 5-2 in games decided by one run or less, with three-walk off wins and two decided by UA’s last at-bat of the game in the eighth inning.
Joltin’ Joey: Freshman centerfielder Joey Rickard has kicked off his collegiate career in impressive fashion. Through 25 games – all starts – Rickard is hitting .394 with five doubles, two triples and is second on the team with four home runs, including a grand slam against Sacramento State on March 20. The Las Vegas native’s 34 RBI not only lead the Wildcats, but lead all players to date in the Pacific-10 Conference. He also ranks sixth in the league in runs scored (27), third in hits (43) and fifth in total bases (64). He was named Pac-10 Player of the Week on March 15 following a sensational five-game stretch.
Steady Senior: On the youngest team in the Pac-10, Rafael Valenzuela offers a dose of veteran leadership. The senior first baseman is hitting a career-best .327 on the season and is one of the team’s top run-producers. Valenzuela, who has played every position in his career except catcher, pitcher and centerfield, has scored 32 runs and collected 23 RBI. He is one of the club’s top extra-base threats with eight doubles, three triples and a home run on the season, for an impressive .495 slugging percentage. He is also a swift 8-for-9 in stolen base attempts.
Seth Steps Up: One of UA’s top performers during the first half of the season is freshman third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean. The first-year Wildcat is hitting .477 since March 5, which has improved his season batting average from .176 on March 6 all the way to its current .413. Mejias-Brean has also been UA’s second-best run-producer during the stretch, collecting 21 RBI over the last 18 while scoring 16 runs. Included was his first career home run on March 14 against Northern Colorado, a solo shot to center field. The week prior, Mejias-Brean began to break out of his early-season slump as he delivered a clutch game-winning single in the 11th inning of opener of the Cal State Fullerton series on March 5. Two days later, Mejias-Brean drove in three runs in the 10-1 series clincher. For his performance, Mejias-Brean was named to the Primetime Performer Weekly Honor Roll by collegebaseball360.com.
Pac-10 POWs: A pair of freshmen – Joey Rickard and Kurt Heyer – have been named Pac-10 Player/Pitcher of the Week this season, along with sophomores Jett Bandy and Steve Selsky … Selsky was named Pac-10 Player of the Week on March 29 after hitting 10-for-20 on the week and accounting for 17 total runs to go with two home runs … Bandy was named Pac-10 Player of the Week on March 22 after hitting .600 over a five-game stretch in which the Wildcats improved their winning streak to 11 games … Rickard helped lead the Wildcats to a pair of sweeps last week over Saint Joseph’s (March 10) and Northern Colorado (March 12-24). The 6-foot-1 native of Las Vegas hit .579 for the week, scored six runs and collected nine RBI in five games. Additionally, Rickard reached base five times with a walk and was twice hit by a pitch, yielding a .692 on base percentage, to go with five stolen bases … Heyer, in just six innings of work, struck out 13 batters against Long Beach State on Feb. 25, tying for second-most ever in a single game by a UA freshman pitcher. A native of Huntington Beach, Calif., Heyer struck out 13 of the 22 batters he faced, allowing just one run on three hits and only one walk.
K’s and BB’s: Arizona’s hitters are walking more and striking out less, while the pitchers are walking fewer and striking out more. Indeed, Wildcat hitters have walked nearly as many times (105) than they have struck out (118) on the season. It amounts to 4.2 walks per game, significantly higher than last season’s 3.2 walks per game. At the same time, the pitchers have seen a rather dramatic turnaround from a year ago. Through 25 games, the staff has 202 strikeouts to just 89 walks for an average of 3.5 walks per game compared to 3.9 a year ago.
Clean Takeoff: Sophomore catcher/first baseman Jett Bandy has been one of UA’s top offensive performer in the team’s first 25 games. Bandy, who tied for the team lead with 21 doubles a year ago, leads the club in average (.4710), in slugging (.730) and in on-base percentage (.552). He also is second in runs (34), hits (47), leads in home runs (5) and is second in RBI (27). Just as impressive, in 100 official at-bats, Bandy has struck out only five times on the season. For his career, Bandy has struck out just 24 times in 264 at-bats, or once every 10 at-bats. Pretty good figures for a power bat in the lineup. Bandy was named Pac-10 Player of the Week for the first time in his career on March 22.
Carry Over: Jett Bandy’s hot start to 2010 can be traced back to the second half of the 2009 season when he was one of UA’s steadiest offensive weapons. Including the final 22 games he played as a freshman, Bandy is hitting a robust .415 (76-for-183) with 40-percent of his hits going for extra bases (22 2B, 8 HR). In the 47-game span, Bandy has collected 43 RBI and scored 44 runs. As a freshman, Bandy earned freshman All-American recognition by Collegiate Baseball and set a UA record for freshmen by being hit by a pitch 14 times. He was plunked three times against Cal State Fullerton March 5-7, and is now 10th all-time at Arizona in career HBP after being hit seven times this season.
Double the Fun: The Wildcats have hit at least one double in 23 of the 25 games this season. A year ago, UA hit a double in 52 of 55 games, including the first 30 of the season. Adding in the final two games of 2008, the Wildcats have doubled in 77 of their last 82 games (94 percent). Interestingly, after hitting 133 doubles a season ago (2.42 per game), UA had just 17 through the first 10 games of 2010 (1.7 per game). However, the Wildcats belted 13 doubles in the double-header against Saint Joseph’s on March 11, improving the season total to 30. The Cats added seven in three games against Northern Colorado and seven more against Wichita State, and their current total of 56 on the season averages out to 2.24 per game. Jett Bandy, who tied for the team lead with 21 a season ago, again leads the club with 11 to date.
Singles For Selsky: The power numbers are not there yet for sophomore Steve Selsky, but that could be a good thing as it has not resulted in a dip in his batting average. Despite three home runs in the last seven games, Selsky has refrained from over-swinging and has let base hits come to him one single at a time. The right fielder leads the team and Pac-10 in hits with 41. But only 12 of Selsky’s hits have gone for extra bases (six doubles and three triples, three home runs). The result has been a .450 average that is second-best on the club and No. 4 in the league. He has 35 runs scored and has 27 RBI through 25 games, which surpasses his season total in RBI from his freshman season (21).
Ortega Bouncing Back: Junior Bryce Ortega did not start the season the way he had hoped offensively, but he steadily began to bounce back earlier this month. After entering the March 6 game hitting .175, Ortega finished the following week with a .254 batting average thanks to a nice five-game stretch in which he batted .421 (8-for-19). Adding in the next seven games, Ortega has brought his average to a .272 for the season. On the year, Ortega has team-high 15 walks and has scored 27 runs. He now has scored 118 runs in his two-plus seasons at Arizona. For his career, Ortega is a .317 hitter with 19 doubles, five triples, five homers and 66 RBI. He is 39-for-44 in stolen base attempts (88.6 percent), which narrowly falls short of the best mark in UA history in the category. Currently, the best percentage is T.J. Steele’s 90.0-percent success rate from 2006-08. Lastly, Ortega has more career walks (71) than strikeouts (66). Ortega has yet to commit an error defensively at second base this season, after moving over from shortstop where he played his first two seasons. Last Sunday, he missed his first start in the last 69 games for the Wildcats.
Top 25 Wins: Taking two-of-three games from No. 18 Cal State Fullerton March 5-7 was significant to the Wildcats for a handful of reasons. But, perhaps the most significant reason was that they picked up a pair of wins over a Top 25 team. In 2009, Arizona was just 1-14 against Top 25 teams, including 1-9 against such teams in Tucson. Starting off 2-1 at home against ranked foes should give the Wildcats a confidence boost when they face some of the remaining ranked teams on the schedule later this season. The Wildcats also swept Wichita State in two games (March 16-17), which was ranked No. 25 in the Collegiate Baseball poll.
Double Play Combo: Shortstop Alex Mejia and second baseman Bryce Ortega, who was UA’s starting shortstop for his first two seasons, have developed some early-season chemistry as a dynamic defensive duo up the middle. The Wildcats have turned a league-best 35 double plays (32 on ground balls) on the season with Ortega and Mejia factoring into 27 and 25, respectively. Ortega leads the Pac-10 in total assists (94), followed closely by Mejia, who is second (85). That’s some good early season work for the middle of UA’s infield.
2,500-Win Club: Arizona’s 8-1 season-opening victory over Utah Valley was the 2,500th win as a program dating back to its first season in 1904. Only six other schools have reached the milestone, including Fordham (4,024 wins in 149 seasons), Texas (3,157 in 113 seasons), Southern California (2,652 in 115 seasons), Michigan (2,633 in 136 seasons), Stanford (2,596 in 116 seasons) and Arizona State (2,601 in 98 seasons). All-time, Arizona is 2,518-1,330-22.
Young Cats: With only two seniors and 17 freshmen, Arizona is the youngest team in the Pac-10 conference this season. In fact, the Wildcats have 23 underclassmen on their roster, which doesn’t include three junior college transfers to the program. A look around the rosters at other league schools finds that UCLA and California have 15 freshmen apiece. While the Conference is thin on seniors at most every school, only Oregon State has as few seniors as the Wildcats do.
.300 Club: Through seven games, the Wildcats are hitting .372 as a team, in line with recent UA clubs that have finished the season over .300. In fact, Arizona’s last seven teams have hit .300 or better for the season. The best figures were turned in by the 2003 and 2005 clubs, which each hit .328 respectively. Last year’s ’09 team was next in line with a .314 average. The 2004 College World Series team hit .305 as did the 2006 team. The Wildcat clubs of 2007 (.306) and 2008 (.301) also were above .300.
Unselfish Play: Arizona’s 5-4 victory in 13 innings over UNLV on March 3 included a record-tying performance by the Wildcats. UA executed five different sacrifice bunt plays to move runners up, tying the school single-game record previously establish at California on April 1, 2006. Interestingly, that game also lasted 13 innings. The last of this year’s five sacrifice hits proved to be the game winner as Alex Mejia successfully put a bunt down with a runner a second and an errant throw to first allowed the winning run to come in to score from second. On the season, UA has 13 sacrifice bunts in 12 games.
MLB Players: Arizona has a rich tradition in baseball and the excellence has continued well into the Andy Lopez era, evidenced by the number of former Wildcats who play in the major leagues. In 2009, 10 different Wildcats – eight coached by Lopez – played at the highest level of baseball. Here’s the list: Brian Anderson (CWS, BOS), Trevor Crowe (CLE), Shelley Duncan (NYY), Trevor Hoffman (MIL), Nick Hundley (SD), Mark Melancon (NYY), John Meloan (OAK), Brad Mills (TOR), Ryan Perry (DET) and Daniel Schlereth (AZ).
Home Sweet Home: The Arizona Wildcats are in the midst of a 26-game homestand to open the season at Jerry Kindall Field. That’s right, the Cats don’t hit the road until their Pac-10 opener at California on April 1 – and that’s no April Fools’ joke. It’s the longest stretch of home games in over 30 years for Arizona, which has stretches of 11 (2002) and 16 games (1998) to open seasons in recent years. The 1979 club opened its season with 24-straight games, but even that pales in comparison to the school’s longest streak. In 1967, the Wildcats hosted 39 home games before ever going on the road. As it relates to this year’s group, the Wildcats hope to continue success at home. Since the current Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium opened in 1967, the Wildcats have emerged victorious in 1,068 games overall, having won nearly 70 percent of the games played. UA has posted 39 home winning seasons since 1967 with an average of 25 wins per year at the field. In 1974 the Wildcats were nearly perfect in Tucson, posting a 37-1 home record, and they went 28-4 at home in 2007 to record the best home winning percentage (.875) since 1976.
New Coaches: Head Coach Andy Lopez has introduced two new coaches to the program. Shaun Cole, who served as the baseball operations director last season, as assumed an assistant coaching position this season and he will work with the pitching staff. Brett Scyphers, a former player under Lopez in the 2005-06 seasons before becoming a three-year team manager, has been named the volunteer assistant coach. The duo brings a youthful combination of playing experience and baseball knowledge that hits home with players. Both officially joined the program prior to the start of the fall practice season.
On Deck: Arizona will continue a seven-game road trip as it travels to face Washington in a three-game series April 9-11 in Seattle. The Wildcats will play a single game at Gonzaga on April 12 before returning to Tucson.
TOMORROW | 5:30pm PTLive