The "Panic Button." What exactly triggers the push of this oh so common metaphorical phrase? For Arizona, maybe it's the eight losses in 12 games that cause the push, or maybe it's the fact the team is more than halfway through the season and it only has one bullpen pitcher with an ERA under four. Or maybe it's the offense, that just three weeks ago put up 18 runs against the Pac-10 leading Oregon State Beavers in a single game, but now can't break double digit runs in a series.
Whichever route you want to take with this and whether you want to call it a ‘panic button' or not, there's no doubt the Wildcats have reached a point in the season where it's going to have to figure some things out, and fast.
Arizona dropped its fourth Pac-10 series up in Eugene this past weekend against a team in the Oregon Ducks that came into the series seeking their first conference series win. In other words, this was a series the Wildcats should have been able to get, but instead Arizona will most likely be looking at its first week not being ranked in college baseball's top 25 and a team on a steady drop toward the bottom of the Pac-10.
WildcatAuthority.com now breaks down what was a discouraging weekend in Eugene for the Arizona baseball team.
Thursday 4/21: Oregon 4 Arizona 2
W: Tyler Anderson (6-1) L: Kurt Heyer (6-2)
Friday 4/22: Arizona 2 Oregon 1
W: Kyle Simon (7-3) L: Madison Boer (2-3)
Saturday 4/23: Oregon 7 Arizona 3
W: Alex Keudell (5-3) L: Tyler Hale (3-4)
Player of the Series: Kyle Simon. After two rough starts in a row, Simon took advantage of a Duck squad that came into the series batting just .244 as a team. He went the distance, going nine innings, allowing just one run on three hits, leading Arizona to its lone series win Friday night. Simon gave up a run on two hits in the opening frame, but after that only one Duck reached base the rest of the night. He pounded the strike zone all night long and didn't walk a single batter.
As impressive as Heyer's complete game shutout was on April 1 against Oregon State, this one was right up there, if not even more impressive, considering Kyle didn't even have a lead in the game until Johnny Field belted a solo homer in the 7th inning. Anything less than a stellar performance by Simon, and Arizona is looking at a series sweep.
Don't be surprised if Simon earns Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week honors this week for this one
Unsung Hero: Johnny Field. He was a non-factor in game one, but in games two and three, Johnny really was one of the few offensive sparks Arizona had in this series. After going 0 for 3 Thursday night, Field went 4 for 8 and collected two runs and three RBIs over the next two games, including the eventual game winning dinger in game two. Just as was said for Simon, the same can be said for the Arizona freshman left fielder. If not for Field in this series, there's no doubt Arizona gets swept.
1. The initial rebound: For the first time in Pac-10 play, and only the third time all season, Arizona lost the first game of a series. The Wildcats responded in game two and Kyle Simon improved to 2-0 when pitching after a loss. In fact when pitching after a loss this season, Simon has pitched 17 innings and surrendered only two runs on eight hits and one walk.
2. Playing clean baseball: Last weekend against UCLA, the Wildcats defensively made some errors that extended innings and ultimately led to two losses. While Arizona still dropped the series this weekend, the Wildcats didn't give Oregon a lot of extra opportunities. The UA had just one position player commit an error, while Arizona pitching only surrendered four walks for the series. Those are numbers coach Lopez can probably live with.
3. Avoiding the big inning: The Arizona bullpen has been a glaring problem all season long, and it was far from perfect in this series, but there was improvement. For the first time since the San Francisco series at the end of March, Wildcat pitching didn't give up more than two runs in any inning this series. While that's not a spectacular stat, more times than not, it's good enough to keep a team with one of the best offenses in the country in the game.
1. Where is the offense?: If there is one thing this team knows how to do really well, it's hit the baseball, but you would never know it by just watching this series alone. The Wildcats only mustered up three hits in game one and six hits in game two. Then in game three when Arizona finally figured out how to hit the baseball, it couldn't bring the runs home, leaving eight Wildcats stranded on base during the game.
Arizona only had one inning this weekend where it was able to score multiple runs and the Wildcats' seven runs in the series is tied for the lowest offensive output of any series so far this year. The UA was also just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position in the finale and for the first time in 59 games (dating back to last year) Cole Frenzel did not reach base. Although it's not officially kept in the NCAA record books, Frenzel's on-base streak is tied for the longest in NCAA baseball history.
2. Lack of adjustments: Now I'm no baseball coach, but when you consistently run the same guys out there and the same negative results keep happening, then maybe it's time for a change. Besides the struggling bullpen, Arizona is now 0-5 in Pac-10 finales this season. Freshman Tyler Hale has started every one of those games and is 0-4, giving up on average 4.5 runs in just under four innings a start during those starts. Does this mean Hale is a bad pitcher? No of course not, but it sure wouldn't hurt to throw a freshman like Konner Wade or Daniel Ponce de Leon in the Sunday role for a start or two.
Heck, why not even give a veteran like Matt Veltmann a chance, after all coach Lopez did say he was the leading candidate to take the Sunday job coming out of fall ball. He had a rough 2009 season because of bulging disks in his back, but after being cut last year, Arizona obviously saw enough in him to bring him back for 2011, so why not give him a shot? Coming into this year Matt Chaffee had an injury filled history, and now all of a sudden he's arguably the third best pitcher on the Wildcat staff.
3. Stumbling on the base paths: Twice in game three Arizona runners were picked off at first base, that shouldn't happen twice in a series, let alone two times in one game. And for a team that likes to pressure defenses as much as Arizona does with its running game, one stolen base in the series is not good. That stolen base happened in the 9th inning of Saturday's game with two outs and the Ducks already leading 7-3, so really Arizona was lucky to even have that one.
On Deck: Arizona now has a quick turnaround, as it comes back home to play in-state rival Arizona State in a non-conference game Tuesday night at Jerry Kindall Field. This will be the first of a seven game home stand for the Wildcats.
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