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The Arizona Wildcats head back to action Friday night at Hi Corbett Field against Kent State and they have their captain back at the helm. Head coach Andy Lopez missed all of fall practice recovering from triple-bypass surgery in October, but returned to the diamond Jan. 15, ready to contend for another Pac-12 Conference title.
The biggest issue for Lopez, however, is the lack of time he has spent with the team.
"I've never missed a fall and I feel it," Lopez said earlier this week. "I still feel like I'm trying to get a feel for a few things like who we are as a club, what our true identity is. It's good to be back, but it's been different."
Without Lopez, the 'Cats remained in sturdy hands. Pitching coach Shaun Cole and hitting coach Matt Siegel, who have a combined eight years of experience under Lopez, took over joint duties during fall camp, alongside coaches Rafael Valenzuela, Bobby Rinard and Michael Lopez.
"I've always had my assistants be ex-players and for the most part, 98 percent of the time, that's been that way it's been with me from Pepperdine through my time here," Lopez said. "Coach Siegel played for me for four years at Florida, Rinard played here for three years, Valenzuela for three years, my son for four years and Coach Cole has been here for four years, but never played. They knew exactly what we wanted and how we wanted it done. They did a great job."
According to Lopez, the Wildcats still have to find their identity on the mound. Arizona caught a break retaining starting right-hander James Farris, but lost their ace Konner Wade to the Colorado Rockies in the seventh round of the 2013 MLB draft.
Farris will take over the Friday night role after finishing 5-5 with a 4.18 ERA last season.
"At the time I was out recruiting in the summer. Honestly, I thought [Farris] was on his way out," Cole said. "Once I got the news I was happy, of course, to have him back. On top of it, I think there's an extreme value in getting your degree. Two things he wanted to do was get his degree and then prove that he should go higher in the draft, which I don't disagree with."
Over the past few months, rumors swirled around Tucson that closer Mathew Troupe would switch to a starting role. Those rumors have since been confirmed, but have been put on hold - for now.
Troupe, who finished with a team-high 29 appearances in 2013, continues to deal with an elbow injury and was scheduled to throw a bullpen session this week. Lopez said the 70-pitch range would be ideal.
"We're bringing him in pretty slow because he had some arm issues in the fall," Lopez said. "He's targeted to start on Tuesday against Utah Valley. I hope we can get him a couple innings this weekend."
This weekend, the Wildcats plan to start Farris on Friday, left-hander Tyler Crawford on Saturday and junior college transfer Cody Hamlin on Sunday.
Of all the regular starters throughout the season, Crawford was the only one to finish with a record over .500 (7-2). The junior also posted the lowest ERA of any weekend starter at 3.83.
Hamlin transferred in from Western Nevada Community College, where he posted a 9-2 record with a 1.45 ERA.
Getting time out of the bullpen early in the season will be Xavior Borde, Tyler Parmenter, Nathan Bannister and Cody Moffett. Joining them will be new faces Morgan Earman, Bobby Dalbec, Austin Schnabel and Luke Soroko. Tyger Talley will take over as the new closer.
"There's definitely a lot of names. I've often joked with my guys that we need five, you need five consistent guys. Six would be great, seven, not to try to be a poet, but seven would be kind of heavenish," Lopez said, laughing.
Talley posted a 4-0 record with 32 strikeouts over 33 innings during his freshman campaign. The right-hander brings a similar intensity to the mound as Troupe and offers a very effective slider that he is able to use regularly.
"I actually think we might be deeper depending on how those young guys perform, but that's the case every year," Cole said.
Check back tomorrow for part two on Arizona's everyday lineup and position players.
Click Here to view this Link.Danny Passovoy
GOAZCATS.com Baseball Staff Writer