Pitching Reigns In Stanford-Arizona Series

May 24, 2011

Cardinal, Wildcats Preparing For NCAA Bids…

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By CB360 Contributor Jack Blanchat

If you like good pitching, you missed out on a good series this weekend if you weren’t in Palo Alto, as the starting pitching for both the Arizona Wildcats and the Stanford Cardinal was tremendous all three days.

Stanford won the series with a 1-0 walk-off win in the 11th on Friday and a 2-1 eighth inning comeback win on Sunday after dropping the Saturday game 7-3, but both teams had some impressive performances on a sunny weekend in the Bay Area.

Mark Appel (courtesy Gostanford.com)

No starter went fewer than six innings all weekend, and Friday night saw two sophomore starters battle in a dramatic fight to the finish. For Stanford, righty Mark Appel went eight innings with nine strikeouts, one walk, and no runs, and for Arizona, righty Kurt Heyer went nine innings with ten strikeouts, no walks, and no runs.

Appel got a no decision even though his team won, but he tied a career high in strikeouts, and had his second-longest outing of the year in the aces’ duel. Appel had excellent command of his change-up and his curveball all night, and the youngster continues to add diabolical off-speed pitches to compliment his mid-to-upper nineties fastball.

Heyer was fantastic as well, as his accuracy with his running two-seam fastball and rapidly sinking change-up propelled him through nine solid innings before the bullpen eventually gave up the loss.

The two pitchers will undoubtedly be Friday night starters next year as well, but, more importantly, they give each team a chance against any squad going in to the postseason.

Appel continues to raise eyebrows, particularly because he has gone against a ton of tremendous Friday starters this season – Sonny Gray, Taylor Jungmann, Gerrit Cole, and Sam Gaviglio to name a few – and he has continued to get better as the season has gone along.

Heyer doesn’t have Appel’s overpowering stuff, but he is very hard for hitters to hit squarely, and he hits the strike zone so often that batters cannot afford to sit back, because he will strike you out (he has 122 K’s already this year).

Starters Kyle Simon and Konner Wade were also fantastic for the Cats on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Simon went seven and one-third inning and kept the Stanford offense to three runs en route to a 7-3 win, stretching his record to 10-3 on the season. Wade threw six and one-third innings of shutout ball Sunday, gave up only one walk, and caused the Cardinal to hit into several double plays.

Kyle Simon improved to 10-3 with Saturday's win.

The Cats’ pitching rotation is solid top to bottom (perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that their names all start with the letter K), but the bullpen leaves some room for concern, particularly Bryce Bandilla, who got saddled with two losses this weekend. The setup man struggled with control in both of his appearance out of the pen, and even though he passed the ball to closer Matt Chaffee in both of those games, the damage was already done by the time Chaffee came in.

The Wildcat offense was uninspiring for most of the weekend, and except for DH Josh Garcia’s two-run home run and shortstop Alex Mejia’s 3-for-4 day on Saturday, the Cardinal pitchers had their way with the Wildcat offense, which currently has the second best team batting average in the nation.

One pitcher who had a bit of breakout weekend against the Wildcat offense was righty Jordan Pries, who had an exceptional start on Sunday for Stanford. Pries went seven innings with six strikeouts, and only gave up one run on a solo home run. The junior has gotten the loss or no decision in his last eight starts, but he finally looked like the Jordan Pries who beat Cal and Vanderbilt in the same week earlier this season. Pries threw all four of his pitches for strikes
and generally confused Wildcat hitters, showing the stuff that powered him to a no-hitter this past summer in the Cape Cod League.

The Cardinal also got an excellent performance from junior closer Chris Reed, who vultured two wins this weekend thanks to late-inning victories on Friday and Sunday. He extended his record to 6-3 this season (which nicely compliments his six saves), and he had great off-speed pitches as well as the nasty, breaking, mid-90s fastball that has been unhittable so far this season.

Tyler Gaffney

Stanford’s offense got a boost from sophomore Tyler Gaffney, who now has a 14-game hitting streak after reaching base in all three games this weekend, and right fielder Austin Wilson, who continues to show how much he has matured at the plate over the course of this season. The freshman hit two seeing-eye singles on Sunday, including the hit that scored the winning run, and he showed that he has adapted to college pitching by no longer swinging for the fences in every at-bat.

Sophomore centerfielder Jake Stewart also returned to the lineup after missing the last several weeks with appendicitis. Stewart was leading the team in extra-base hits and stolen bases when the illness struck, and the capable leadoff hitter will likely provide a big boost to an offense that has seen its stalwart hitter – shortstop Kenny Diekroeger – stuck deep in a rut. The sophomore went 0-for-3 on Sunday to drop his batting average below .300 for the first time all year after he was batting over .400 for the first third of the season.

Stanford ends up with a big series win to keep it at .500 in Pac-10 play, but this series was so close that it very easily could have gone in Arizona’s direction. Keep an eye on these two teams coming into the postseason – I expect them to both be two seeds in regionals, and they most certainly could upset a one seed due to their powerful pitching staffs.

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