Wildcat Is No Wild Card

Turks Figured Arizona Pitcher Would Be Good, And He Is

by Matt Jones
Daily News-Record

HARRISONBURG – The No. 1 item on Matt Hartman’s check-list this summer was to work on his control, namely keeping his fastball and curveball down in the strike zone.

When he doesn’t locate, the University of Arizona pitcher has a tendency to get hit hard. In his first loss of the season Tuesday, he allowed a three-run homer to Front Royal’s Daontre Porter on a hanging curve-ball, a blast that teammates ribbed him about the next day.

Thankfully for Hartman and the Harrisonburg Turks, the right-hander has made those mistakes rare this summer.

“I’m just pounding the zone and trying not to walk too many guys,” said Hartman the day after his loss, “I’ve been OK with it so far, but I can still get better.”

The 6-foot-3, 200 pound Hartman entered Sunday’s games tied for second in the Valley League with four wins and tied for 10th in strikeouts (31). He has a 3.53 ERA. A starter in last week’s All-Star Game, Hartman is taking full advantage of a heavy workload after logging just 5 1/3 innings oas a freshman for the Wildcats this past spring.

He was sent across the country to the wood-bat VBL, by former Arizona coach Andy Lopez, a friend of Harrisonburg manager Bob Wease. Lopez retired this year after 14 seasons at Arizona with eight NCAA tournament appearances, including two College World Series appearances and one national championship (2012).

“When Andy sends you a ballplayer and he says, “This guy is going to help you,” he’s going to help you,” Wease said.

So far, Hartman has been the Turks’ ace. With a fastball that sits at 89-91 mph and touches 93 and a sharp-breaking curve-ball, he’s shown the talent that got him a scholarship to Arizona and interest from Duke, Cal Poly, Liberty, Santa Barbara and San Diego.

Jay Johnson, Arizona’s new coach, saw Hartman as a junior in high school while he was the coach at San Diego.

“You could see he had a good arm and good feel for a curve-ball and had some upside and potential for a future in front of him,” Johnson, hired by Arizona after two years at Nevada, said by phone. “It’s good to have a little bit of history with him, at least knowing who he is. I’m looking forward to his development here at Arizona.”

Hartman said playing for Lopez was a “huge” factor in his decision to sign with the Wildcats, but he likes that there is some familiarity with Johnson from the recruiting process.

Although Hartman was a good prospect out of high school – he had six wins, a 1.27 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 66 1/2 innings as a senior – he did it at tiny Calvary Christian Vista in Vista, California, located between Los Angeles and San Diego. His school, he said, had 150 students and just 33 in his graduating class.

“I did come from a smaller school, so the transition to Arizona was definitely huge,” Hartman said. “Going from small high school guys in California to basically the best hitters in the nation was a little bit shocking, but I learned a lot from Lopez.”

Hartman said he got his name out to colleges and pro scouts by playing plenty of summer ball and participating in all-star games. Lopez offered him a scholarship after seeing him at the Area Code Games the summer after his summer season.

Johnson likes the fact that Hartman is having a good summer after pitching just six innings at Arizona this year while stuck behind older players.

“I know he’s got good arm strength,” Johnson said. “I know he has some bite and snap to his curve-ball and he’s doing exactly what he needed to this summer, which is pitch in games and compete so the stuff and potential starts to match up with that experience, and we’re looking forward to him making a jump next season.”

Hartman said he’s expecting a bigger workload as a sophomore. Johnson said the biggest jump in college baseball is from freshman to sophomore year and that Hartman has a chance to be a “good one.”

Wease sees the same thing.

“He works hard, he’s got a giddy-up fastball, he’s got a nice curve-ball, but the main thing is he wants it, and that’s going to take him a long way,” Wease said.