So we meet again Cavaliers. But this time you won't have your ace to protect you!
Virginia's No. 2 starter,(Midlothian), is in line to take the ball in an elimination game Thursday against Cal, the team U.Va. beat in its opening game Sunday.
. . . or will you?
But in the same third-game scenario in 2009, O'Connor elected to bring back Danny Hultzen on short rest. He'll have the same dilemma this time, though Wilson is a senior whom the coach has relied on all year. That wasn't the case two years ago.
I haven't found official word yet on UVA's starter against Cal, but i don't really see what they would gain from sending Hulzten out. For one thing, Hultzen would be pitching on short rest, and it's clear that UVA's coaching staff is invested in protecting his arm, because he was pitching just fine before being removed from Sunday's game. For another, the Cavs have to win three games in a row - each equally important - and Hultzen can't pitch all three. So you may as well ensure that he's well rested for whichever game he does start.
I was also going to point out that Cal's hitters had already seen Hultzen and that UVA would perhaps be better of showing the Bears a different arm they've never faced before. But if Virginia indeed sends Tyler Wilson to the mound he won't be entirely unfamiliar, because Wilson pitched 2.1 innings on Sunday. In fact, every single Cal hitter got at least one plate appearance against the senior right hander. Considering Virginia's deep and talented bullpen the decision to send out Wilson seemed odd. Hopefully Cal can take advantage of their free preview.
Cal arguably has a similar decision - a fresh Dixon Anderson, a fresh Kevin Miller oron short rest? Again I think the it makes much more sense to send out a rested pitcher, but I don't envy Coach Esquer having to decide between Anderson and Miller. Despite struggling in Pac-10 play, Esquer showed confidence starting Anderson against national seed Rice. He responded with what was a pretty reasonable performance marred by his own fielding errors on the mound. If Anderson could turn in a similar performance (minus the adventures in the field) Cal would stand an excellent chance against Virginia.
My guess is that, no matter who starts between Miller and Anderson, the other will be available in long relief if the other runs into any kind of trouble. Esquer has wisely shown a quick hook in elimination games and I don't anticipate that changing. And after a long outing on Sunday Logan Scott should again be available out of the pen if needed.
Keys to the game
1. Get just enough out of the starting pitcher: I don't think we're asking anybody to throw seven or eight shut-out innings (Though that would be quite welcome). Only Matt Flemer pitched on Tuesday so the bullpen is relatively well-rested. Five or six innings and a run or two allowed will give Cal a fighting chance against the #1 team in the country
2. Carry over Tuesday's confidence at the plate: Cal's lineup just battered one of the best starting pitchers in the nation, a likely first round draft choice in 2012. Two days prior they got a free preview of Thursday's likely starter and even hit him a little bit. They've had excellent approaches from the plate consistently in Omaha. There's no reason why they shouldn't be able to put up crooked numbers tomorrow.
3. Keep living the charmed life: Teams that progress in the NCAA playoffs have bounces go their way. Slow grounders find holes, bloops fall in gaps, sure-handed defenders commit errors. Cal has certainly seen that in many of their wins. Let's hope lady luck stays on our side.