Pac-10 action continues in earnest this weekend for UCLA (17-11, 7-2 Pac-10) and Arizona (22-11, 4-5 Pac-10) ... The Wildcats hit the road following a nine-game homestand that featured seven games against Top 25 teams ... The Bruins seek to continue a hot start to the conference slate with a league-leading 7-2 mark to date ...Certainly on paper this looks like an Arizona hitting vs. UCLA pitching matchup ... The Wildcats are hitting .342 on the season, good enough to check in third nationally to date, but the Bruins' staff has limited opposing hitters to the nation's lowest average so far at .189, so something will have to give ... Two high-strikeout pitching staffs match up on the mound ... Kurt Heyer, Arizona's Friday night arm, ranks No. 3 in the NCAA with 80 strikeouts, while UCLA's Saturday hurler Trevor Bauer leads all pitchers with 97 strikeouts ... Both clubs will steal their share of bases, with the Wildcats' swiping 46 to date and the Bruins totaling 45 thus far ... UCLA has 30 sacrifice hits, while Arizona has 24 thus far, so look for advancing base runners to be a key in the series ... Another key figures to be defense, an area the Wildcats have dropped off in recent weeks after leading the Pac-10 earlier this season. Meanwhile, the Bruins have committed 25 errors in 28 games to date ... Series has the makings of a good one as the schools near the mid-point of Pac-10 play.
UA-Cal Recap: Arizona won its first Pac-10 Conference series of the year by taking two of three games from then-No. 13 California in Tucson last weekend. The Wildcats rallied with three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to complete a comeback in a 5-4 win in the opener on Friday. Jett Bandy's RBI single to right field drove in pinch-runner Bobby Rinard, who ran for pinch-hitter Josh Garcia following a two-run double to tie the game, for the game-winning run. On Saturday, rain postponed the second game of the series and forced a doubleheader on Sunday, where the Wildcats won the first game 10-8 to capture the series. Closer Matt Chaffee recorded two strikeouts with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning and followed it up with a scoreless ninth inning to preserve the victory. The visiting Golden Bears captured the win in the finale, breaking open a 9-7 game with six runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth to win 17-7. In the series, the Wildcats hit .381 as a team and slugged .571 thanks to nine doubles, a triple and three home runs in the series.
Arizona Head Coach Andy Lopez: The Wildcats are coached by Andy Lopez, who is now in his 10th season with a 338-219-1 record at the school. He has guided the Wildcats to postseason competition in six of the last eight years, including a berth in the Fort Worth Regional in 2010 and highlighted by a 2004 College World Series appearance. Overall, Lopez has more than 1,000 career victories, one national championship and four College World Series appearances. Lopez owns a career record of 1,025-637-7 in 29 years as a head coach, including stints at Cal State Dominguez Hills (1983-88), Pepperdine (1989-94), Florida (1995-2001) and Arizona (2002-present). Lopez led Pepperdine, Florida (twice) and Arizona to College World Series appearances. His total victories are 16th-most among active coaches and he is just one of just 45 individuals to reach 1,000 career victories.
Tough Stretch Continues: This weekend's three-game set against UCLA continues a stretch of 10-straight games against teams in the Baseball America Top 25 for the Wildcats. So far in the stretch, Arizona has gone 1-3 against No. 5/6 Arizona State at the time of games, 1-2 against No. 23 Oregon State and 2-1 against No. 13 California. The Bruins enter the weekend ranked No. 23. Earlier this year, the Wildcats split a pair of games with No. 21 Rice in Tucson. To date, the Wildcats are 5-7 against ranked teams and have won the first game of each series against those teams. This weekend's trip to Los Angeles will be UA's first road games against a ranked opponent this season.
Ring `Em Up: Anyone planning to keep a scorebook for this weekend's UA-UCLA games should practice writing their K's. That's because the Cats and Bruins have combined to strikeout 574 opposing hitters on the season. In fact, UCLA leads the nation with 296 strikeouts on the year, while the Wildcats aren't too far behind at 276. The series will also feature the nation's individual strikeout leader (UCLA's Trevor Bauer, 97) and the player with the third-most in the country (Arizona's Kurt Heyer, 80). The UCLA pitching vs. Arizona hitting matchup will be particularly interesting. The Wildcats have struck out the second-fewest times of any Pac-10 school and go down on strikes just five times per game. The Bruins' staff strikeouts out more than twice that number per game.
Impressive Offensive Numbers: The Wildcats' offense has put together an impressive offensive season to date with statistics that rank highly in the Pac-10 and on the national level. Perhaps most notable is the fact that Arizona's .342 batting average ranks No.3 in the nation to date, as does its total of 400 base hits. The Wildcats also have the nation's No. 10 slugging percentage at a .473 clip. As far as Pac-10 ranks, the Wildcats have at least a share of the league lead in batting (.342), slugging (.473), on base percentage (.405), runs (248), hits (400), doubles (71), triples (14), home runs (18) and sacrifice flies (21).
Aces of the Staff: Arizona's Friday and Saturday starters, Kurt Heyer and Kyle Simon, have done an outstanding job of turning in strong performances in their weekend starts. They have a combined 11-3 record on the season and have 134 strikeouts against 21 walks in 129.2 combined innings to date. Heyer's 65.0 innings pitched are second-most for any hurler in the country, while Simon is right behind at No. 3 with 64.2 innings pitched. Both have been highly efficient with their pitch counts most of the season, which has allowed them to work deep into games. It's also taken pressure off the Arizona bullpen early in games and has helped shorten games to allow Arizona to turn to closer Matt Chaffee. That was evident last weekend against California as Chaffee entered in the ninth inning and earned the win out of the bullpen in the series opener and then turned around to pick up a save in 1.2 innings on the second game.
Heyer Standards: Arizona Friday night starter Kurt Heyer has picked up right where he left off a year ago following an All-Pac-10 season. In 10 starts this year (includes two mid-week outings), Heyer has turned in a 5-1 record with a 1.38 ERA. He has 80 strike outs on the year, which ranks No. 3 in the nation, and has walked just 15 batters. Those numbers have come in 65.0 innings pitched, the second-most for any player in the country. In 2010, Heyer finished the season with a 7-4 record and a team-best 3.26 ERA in 17 appearances that included 16 starts. He struck out a UA freshman record 109 hitters on the season while walking just 29 in 102.0 innings pitched. A member of the Pac-10 All-Conference team, Heyer etched his name into several top categories for UA freshman pitchers. Along with the record-low 3.26 ERA, Heyer's tally of seven wins ranks tied for No. 4 amongst all freshman pitchers at the school. He tied for the fifth-most starts and tied for No. 3 in freshman winning percentage with a .636 mark in 11 decisions. His 102.0 innings pitched are the fourth-most while he was one of just four pitchers to throw a shutout in a rookie season. Heyer's remarkable strikeout to walk ratio was a key to his success throughout the season. Heyer struck out 9.62 batters per nine innings, which is the second-best ratio in program history for a freshman. His 2.56 walks per nine innings are the third-lowest for a Wildcat. For his career, Heyer has a 12-5 record and a 2.53 ERA. He has struck out 189 batters against 44 walks in 167 innings pitched.
Simon Says: Arizona Saturday starter Kyle Simon has turned in a strong junior campaign. With a 6-2 record, Simon has a 3.34 ERA in 64.2 innings pitched, tied for the third-most by any pitcher in the country. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has registered 54 strikeouts (including a career-best 13 in season debut against North Dakota State on Feb. 19) while issuing just six walks on the season. As a sophomore, Simon led the Wildcats with 109.2 innings pitched on the year and eight victories on the mound. When he was on, he was one of the top pitchers in the Pac-10. But, he struggled with control at times. Simon is poised for a more consistent junior campaign after a breakout summer season in the Cape Cod league. Pitching for the Orleans Firebirds, Simon was selected to the league All-Star game as he accumulated a 0.92 ERA and limited hitters to a .159 average in 39 innings pitched. Perhaps most impressive, Simon hit just two batters and issued eight walks. For the Wildcats, Simon hit a team-high 16 batters and allowed a team-high 37 walks. In his career, Simon has a 17-13 record with a 4.55 ERA. He has 158 strikeouts and 69 walks in 249 innings pitched.
Rickard Leading the Pac: Sophomore centerfield Joey Rickard continues to lead all Pac-10 players with a .428 batting average, which is No. 10 in the nation. His 59 base hits also lead the league and rank No. 3 for all players across the country. Rickard also ranks highly with a .536 slugging percentage, the 10th-best mark in the league, while he checks in at No. 4 in runs scored (31). Rickard's 10 doubles are second on the club and tied for third in the conference. He also ranks second on the team and third in the league with 10 stolen bases. In 91 career games, Rickard is hitting .351 for the Wildcats with 77 runs scored, 70 RBI, 18 doubles, five triples, nine home runs and 23 stolen bases.
Rev'd Up Ref: Sophomore OF/DH Robert Refsnyder has been one of the steadiest bats in the lineup throughout the season and he turned in one of his best nine-game stretches recently. Refsnyder has registered at least one hit and one RBI in eight of the nine games. In the stretch, Refsnyder has started six games at designated hitter and three in the outfield as he has collected 18 total hits to go with 10 runs scored and a staggering 16 RBI. The span includes two doubles and three homers while he has raised his batting average to .363 on the year. The surge of RBI has pushed him to the top of the Pac-10 with 33 on the season, paced by 11 multi-RBI games. He currently ranks third in the Pac-10 with 49 base hits on the season and checks in No. 2 in runs scored (32).
Frenzel's Frenzied Start: First baseman Cole Frenzel has opened his sophomore campaign in impressive style, reaching base in all 33 games this season out of the No. 2 spot in the order (hit No. 3 in lineup twice). Batting behind the Pac-10's top hitter to date (Joey Rickard), the left-hand hitting Frenzel is second on the club with a .408 batting average. He also has drawn team-highs of 19 walks and 11 hit-by-pitches, yielding an on-base percentage of .519, which leads all Pac-10 players to date. Frenzel is second on the club with 17 multi-hit games and has the third-most multi-RBI games this year (8).
Closing Time: Arizona junior LHP Matt Chaffee has assumed the closer role in recent weeks and has excelled in it. On the year, Chaffee has a 4-1 record out of the bullpen and has three saves in as many chances. A look at Chaffee's numbers do not do him any justice for how well he has pitched over the course of the season. That's because a disastrous inning at UNLV on March 9 led to eight earned runs on his pitching line when a series of seemingly routine groundballs (including two potential double-plays) took bad hops and complemented a few soft base hits for a big inning. If you remove that game from Chaffee's season totals, his 5.54 ERA is trimmed all the way down to 2.84, a much more respectable number. And those numbers aren't due to a limited number of opportunities. Chaffee has pitched in 21 games on the season, which is tied for third-most of any pitcher in the nation. He has struck out 39 batters against 10 walks in 26 innings pitched on the year.
It's a Matter of Time: Arizona is an even 6-6 in its last 12 games. A glance over some stats shows the difference usually has been either delivering the key hits or a lack of key hits in run-producing situations. Consider that in Arizona's six wins the Wildcats are hitting .494 (40-for-81) with runners in scoring position, while struggling at a .226 clip (14-for-62) with runners in scoring position in the six losses. In two-out situations, the Wildcats have outscored foes 23-6 in two-out RBI in the wins, while getting crushed 27-6 in the six losses. Certainly timely hitting can prove to be a big factor in success.
Hit Parade: One streak Arizona will put on the line this weekend is its run of nine straight games with 10 or more hits. Indeed, the Wildcats racked up double-digit hits in each of the nine games on a recent homestand, including 18 on April 1 against Oregon State. Otherwise, Arizona tallied 16 hits once, 14 hits twice, 13 hits once, 11 hits twice and 10 hits twice. In that span, UA's season batting average rose five points, from .337 to .342, which ranks No. 3 in the NCAA.
No April Fools' Joke: Arizona sophomore Kurt Heyer, an All-Pac-10 pitcher a season ago, turned in one of his best pitching performances of his career on April 1 as Arizona shut out Oregon State, 18-0. The shutout was the first thrown against Oregon State in 139 games dating back to 2008, and eared the right-hander his third career Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week honor. Facing off against OSU's Sam Gaviglio in one of the most hyped pitching matchups of the season, Heyer threw a complete game shutout for the first time in his career and went the distance for just the second time in his career. Heyer was dominant all game long, surrendering just five hits and two walks to go with nine strikeouts.
Going, Going, Gone! Somewhat surprisingly, Arizona is tied for the Pac-10 lead with 18 home runs on the season. While it should be noted the Wildcats have played more games than any other team, it's also interesting to consider where the club ranked a year ago. In 2010, Arizona had hit 17 home runs through 28 games, while its 18 dingers this year have come in 33 games. But most surprising is the fact that the Wildcats finished No. 9 in the league with 35 total home runs last year. DH/1B Josh Garcia leads the club and all Pac-10 players with six long balls so far.
Bandy Bouncing Back: Junior Jett Bandy, noted as a second team preseason All-American by several publications, struggled through the first few weeks of the season. In fact, Bandy was hitting just .194 after nine games and was struggling in run-producing situations as evidenced by an 0-for-13 start to the year with runners in scoring position. But since bottoming out at .194 on March 4, Bandy has since hit .348 over a 24-game period to raise his season average to a respectable .298. Bandy has really turned it on in the last nine games, hitting at a blistering .412 clip. In those nine games, Bandy is 14-for-34 with three doubles, eight runs scored and 15 RBI. He's hitting .588 with runners in scoring position and has six two-out RBI. Certainly Bandy would like to keep up the hot hitting. In two-and-a-half seasons, Bandy is a .323 career hitter who has 109 RBI and 100 runs scored. He has been hit by a pitch (43) or walked (39) 82 times in his career while striking out just 52 times.
Bandy Hits Top-10 Chart: Junior catcher Jett Bandy tallied the 53rd double of his career on April 5 against Arizona State. That pushed him into a tie for No. 6 in school history with Ron Hassey (1973-76), Gar Millay (1984-86) and Brad Glenn (2006-09). Chip Hale (1984-87) is next in line at No. 5 with 56 doubles. The school record holder is Dave Stegman, who hit 72 doubles from 1973-76.
Ortega Moving Up: Senior 2B Bryce Ortega leads the Wildcats with 14 stolen bases on the season. That has pushed his carry tally up to 53 and is within reach of hitting the career top-10 at Arizona sometime this season. Charles Shoemaker (1959-61) currently sits at No. 10 with 61 stolen bases. Arizona's career leader is Dwight Taylor, who stole 90 bases from 1979-81. Ortega is also challenging the school record for stolen base percentage. Thus far, Ortega is 52-for-59 in stolen base attempts, which checks out to a .883 percentage. That would be good enough for No. 2 all-time, slightly behind T.J. Steel's .900 clip from 2006-08 and just ahead of John Glenn's .872 percentage from 1970-72.
No Walk in the Park: Sometimes it is easier said than done, but a telling statistic for any pitching staff is often the amount of walks allowed in a game. This year, Arizona is 15-2 when pitchers issue three or fewer walks per game, while struggling to stay near .500 with a 7-9 record in contests with four or more walks allowed. Walks to lead off an inning are even more painful. Consider that Arizona has issued a leadoff walk (or HBP) just 31 times in 293.2 innings pitched this season. That is just 10 percent of all innings played. However, opponents score 30 percent of ALL runs (47 of 155) in innings that started with a leadoff walk or HBP issued by the Arizona pitching staff. Overall, Arizona averages 2.7 walks allowed per game in 22 wins, compared to 4.8 walks allowed per game in 11 losses.
Table-Setter: Sophomore centerfielder Joey Rickard has been instrumental to Arizona's success as a leadoff hitter in his first two seasons at the school. Often times, the Wildcats' success comes and goes with Rickard's ability to get on base from the top of the order and score runs, while driving in his share in RBI situations. Consider that in the 56 games UA has won the last two years (34 in 2010 and 22 to date in 2011), Rickard hits .423, reaches base at a .480 clip, has scored 63 runs and tallied 55 RBI. Those numbers include 16 doubles, three triples and six home runs, to go with 17 stolen bases. Compare those outrageous numbers to his .227 average, .299 on base percentage, 14 runs and 15 RBI in 33 losses accumulated (24 in 2010, 11 in 2011). Certainly Rickard's performances do not single-handedly lead to wins or losses, but it's pretty obvious as a general trend that UA's leadoff hitter can set a tone.
Go Johnny, Go! Arizona freshman outfielder Johnny Field has turned in a strong start to his inaugural campaign in the Cardinal and Navy. In fact, Field leads the club and ranks No. 2 in the Pac-10 with 11 doubles on the season, while adding a pair of triples and home runs. It's helped net him a .343 batting average and a place in the every day lineup. Field has 19 runs scored and 18 RBI to his credit thus far all while helping fill the void in the lineup of Steve Selsky, who has battled a series of injuries this season.
J-Gar Hitting It Far: Senior 1B/DH Josh Garcia has capitalized on a healthy senior season to date, hitting .322 with a Pac-10 leading six home runs. Playing in 26 of the team's 33 games, Garcia has also added five doubles and two triples for a nifty .600 slugging percentage that checks in No. 2 in the league. Garcia has scored 17 runs and registered 25 RBI on the year, perhaps none bigger than the two he drove in last week on a pinch-hit two-run double that tied the game 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning against California on April 8.
Relentless Attack: With the way head coach Andy Lopez has penciled in his lineup cards this year, Joey Rickard, Cole Frenzel and Bryce Ortega have all hit consecutively in the order in each game. For the first 25 games, that included Ortega batting No. 9 and turning over the lineup to the leadoff hitter Rickard and the No. 2 hitter Frenzel. Twice recently, catcher Jett Bandy earned a much-deserved day of rest, so the Wildcats shuffled Ortega from No. 9 to No. 2 and slotted Frenzel in the No. 3 spot. Suffice it to say, it's been a relentless offensive attack. As a trio, Rickard-Frenzel-Ortega are hitting a combined .400 on the season and reaching base at nifty .475 clip. They have registered 99 runs scored and collected 70 RBI while stealing 29 bases.
Mejia Doing It Again: Last season, shortstop Alex Mejia led all Wildcats with a .360 (32-for-89) batting average over the course of the 27-game conference schedule. It was a big improvement on his .288 (34-for-118) batting average he accumulated in the 31 non-conference games played in 2010. Well, 2011 is shaping up no differently through nine league games. After hitting .293 (27-for-92) in 24 non-conference games this year, Mejia is batting .438 (14-for-32) in the league contests. Added up, that's a .380 batting average for Mejia in 36 career Pac-10 games.
Tough to Strikeout: One thing UA hopes to continue to do is being a tough offensive team to strikeout. So far, Wildcat hitters have struck out 100 fewer times than opponents (165 compared to 278). That is just about five strikeouts per game, a pretty good clip that goes nicely with a .342 team batting average to date. In fact, the 165 total strikeouts are the second-fewest for a team in the Pac-10 so far (despite UA playing the most games). A year ago, Arizona's hitters proved to be tough to strikeout, too, fanning just 337 times in 58 games. That was the fewest strikeouts in a season since 2001, when the Wildcats struck out 332 times in 56 games. On a per game basis, the 2005 club was the best in recent memory, going down on strikes just 5.7 times per game. Last year's squad averaged 5.81 strikeouts per game, while the early 2011 figure checks in at 5.0 per game.
.300 Club: Through 33 games, the Wildcats are hitting .342, something that should bode well for the club if it wishes to extend its run of .300 seasons. Arizona hit .321 as a team in 2010, extending the program's streak to eight consecutive seasons with an overall batting average of .300 or better. Last year's clip was the best for a Wildcat team since 2005, when a veteran squad turned in a blistering .328 average. The 2003 club - Andy Lopez's second year - also hit .328, while the 2009 club hit .314. Other marks include .306 in 2007, .305 in 2006 and in the 2004 College World Series season, and .301 in 2008.
Bandy on Bench Award Watch List: Junior catcher Jett Bandy, who is off to a slow start offensively in 2011, was named to the watch list for the 2011 Coleman Company-Johnny Bench Award delivered by Papa John's Pizza. After 33 games, Bandy is hitting .298, has scored 23 runs and has 28 RBI. Defensively, he has thrown out 12 of 31 potential base stealers. For his career, Bandy is a .323 hitter for the Wildcats, has 53 doubles, 10 home runs, 100 runs scored and 109 RBI. He has walked 39 times, been hit by a pitch 43 times and struck out just 52 times in 138 career games. As a sophomore, Bandy was a semifinalist for the honor.
On Deck: Arizona will have a short turnaround before heading up to Eugene, Ore., to take on the Oregon Ducks next weekend. A Thursday-Saturday series to avoid Easter Sunday will begin on April 21 at 6 p.m.