BASEBALL: Will Arnold provide needed boost?

CHAD ARNOLD IS a starting pitcher for the Cougars, but Donnie Marbut can't wait to see what kind of "relief" the senior right-hander can provide Washington State.

Chad Arnold, WSU's No. 1 starter last year, is scheduled to make his season debut on Sunday when the Cougars close out a five-game homestand by taking on Utah Valley at Bailey-Brayton Stadium.

"I think it's a big lift for the team," Donnie Marbut said.

The coach certainly hopes so. After a 5-1 start, the Cougars lost three straight games, the last two of those defeats coming by unsightly margins of 14-3 and 13-4.

"I didn't think this team was capable of playing this bad," Marbut muttered.

The Cougars (6-4) ended their slide Tuesday with an 8-7 win over Dallas Baptist, but WSU walked nine and made three errors.

"We needed a win any way we could get it," Marbut said. "It certainly wasn't pretty, but we'll take it."

MARBUT SAID he believes the return of Arnold from an elbow injury will help ease the pressure on WSU's struggling young pitchers, particularly once Arnold is able to increase his pitch count. The Cougars should have a formidable starting rotation in Adam Conley (2-0, 1.29), James Wise (2-1, 2.04) and Arnold (5-3, 3.74 last year).

Correction: Arnold will start on Sunday. A previous subhead incorrectly indicated he would come out of the bullpen.

After 10 games, the Cougars sport a sky-high 4.85 earned run average, and they're batting a so-so .286, with eight homers and 11 stolen bases. South Alabama blasted 25 hits off WSU in Sunday's finale at the Dairy Queen Classic in Tucson, and WSU pitchers have walked 20 the past two games.

The Cougars' best players in the early going have been Conley (a top prospect for the June draft) and Matt Argyropoulos. A senior third baseman out of Longview's Mark Morris High School, Argyropoulos leads the team with a .536 batting average, 10 RBIs and three home runs (tied with Taylor Ard).

"Matt has worked extremely hard on his game," Marbut said. "He's been a two-year (now three-year) starter for us. He's had a little bit of struggles down the stretch the last two years. I don't see that happening this year. He's really changed his mental approach. He's living in the moment. He's not letting his last at bat affect him."

An all-state baseball and basketball player in high school -- "He's a really good athlete," Marbut said -- Argyropoulus has already matched the three home runs he hit last year.

"I'm looking forward to watching Matt having a great senior year, because a guy like him really deserves it," Marbut said. "He's been a model citizen for us. He's a great student. He's gotten better and better every year, and that's what you're looking for out of your players."

THE COUGARS return to action Friday at 5:30 p.m. against Utah Valley. The Wolverines, 3-7 with five straight losses, are set to face Conley on Friday and Wise at 5:30 Saturday before Arnold debuts with a pitch limit at noon Sunday.

The Cougars play four games at Fresno State next week, then open Pac-10 play March 25-27 at California. WSU's Pac-10 home opener is April 1 against Stanford.

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