February and March were not very good to Elliott Barzilli.
A season after flirting with the .500 mark for much of the opening stretch, Barz looked lost at the plate through most of the first six weeks of the 2017 campaign. He was visibly frustrated at the plate, taking ill-advised swings at early pitches, chasing balls out of the zone, and looking like he just wanted to take his cuts and sit down for long stretches in games. Barz was batting under .200 for most of the Frogs’ first 20+ games, and had drawn only a handful of walks while striking out a team-leading 29 times and grounding into a team-leading four double plays.
Why start a preview about tonight’s game between TCU and UTA by listing off the litany of Barzilli struggles? Because I think they’re over.
Elliot Barzilli is putting together a Gold Glove level campaign at third base this season, making the impossible look routine on a regular basis. He was magical against K-State, a veritable vacuum with a leather glove, handling baseballs in the wet conditions with ease and making a handful of nearly impossible throws. But if the Frogs want to reach Omaha for a fourth straight year - and come home with some hardware this time - they need Barz to be more than just a great defender, they need him to hit. Barzilli started the Big 12 season by going 0-23 against Kansas and Oklahoma, but seemed to right the ship a bit against UTRGV with a 3-4 two game set where he scored five runs and struck out just once. Against Kansas State he was just 3-13, but kept his hitting streak alive and showed a much more patient and confident approach at the plate, squaring up balls, even if they didn’t all fall in. Barz will have five out of conference games before the Frogs travel to WVU, and if he can continue to get his swing back, TCU becomes even more dangerous than their 8-1 conference start.
Mitchell Traver (0-0, 2.45 ERA) vs Jordan West (0-1, 7.45 ERA)
Welcome back, Mitch. Traver, who has missed the last several weeks, makes his return to the mound Tuesday night against the Mavericks. He will face off against Jordan West, making his second start and 11th appearance of the season. For TCU, getting a healthy Traver back is crucial, as a fourth starter has yet to step up and grab the reins of the role with two hands. Jim Schlossnagle turned to Dalton Horton first, who went 0-1 in two starts and struggles with control, not making it past the first few innings in either go round. Jake Eissler was the next to get the call and he was very good, but has become such a valuable arm out of the bullpen for the Frogs that Schloss would likely prefer to keep him fresh for conference games. Traver will likely be on a short rope tonight, working under either a pitch or innings count. The Frogs will turn to some combination of Green/King/Horton/Coughlin for the balance of the innings.
The Frogs saw West in their earlier 7-2 win, as he took the loss after surrendering three earned runs over 1.2 innings of work off of two hits and two walks.
The Frogs were stymied Friday and Saturday through regulation, not scoring until extra innings in the first two games of their first conference road series of the season. They broke out in a big way Sunday afternoon in support of Brian Howard, exploding for five and six run innings to run away with the sweep. Cam Warner, the Frogs’ RBI lead, knocked a grand slam Sunday, while TCU slugger Luken Baker notched the game-winning RBIs Friday and Saturday. As a team, the Frogs have pushed their team batting average to .267, have drawn 151 walks, and seem to finally being slowing down in the strikeout department. They average over seven runs per game and are 49-59 in the stolen base department, led by Nolan Brown’s 14 and Austen Wade’s 9. Evan Skoug, who himself seems to be back on track, owns a ten game hitting streak, Barz has hit in five straight, and Wade has reached safely in 15 straight games. The Frogs scored seven runs on seven hits in their last meeting with the Mavs, with Evan Skoug’s two-run blast highlighting an otherwise sloppy game.
On the other side, UTA hits .266, with 123 walks and 187 strikeouts. The Mavs have four players hitting over .300, led by Will Olsen’s .346 clip. Noah Vaughan hits jut over .200 but has six home runs and 18 RBI, while Omar Salinas goes five and 27 with 17 runs scored. UTA is only 19-25 on the base paths, and in a low-scoring game, TCU’s speed could be the difference. The Mavs have also hit into 29 double plays.
TCU is looking for their ninth straight win and fourth straight on the road. UTA is hoping to run their record back to .500. Anytime these cross-town rivals meet, it tends to be a good one. You can listen on KTCU 88.7 or watch UTA’s live feed at www.UTAMavs.com.