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TCU Baseball at Rice: Preview

The Frogs continue their road trip in Houston tonight against a familiar foe.

TCU Baseball vs UC Irvine: March 3, 2018
TCU Baseball vs UC Irvine: March 3, 2018
Melissa Triebwasser

TCU Baseball (9-4) at Rice (7-10) | Reckling Park | Houston, TX | 6:30pm CT | Owl Vision | KTCU 88.7 | Series: 123-119-1 (Rice)

LHP Russell Smith (1-1, 9.64 ERA) vs. RHP Roel Garcia (1-0, 1.80 ERA)

Pitching prodigy Russell Smith gets a third shot on the mound today, coming off of a start against UC Irvine where he allowed six runs (four earned) on five hits, struck out two and walked two. Smith, one of the top pitchers in the class of 2017, hasn’t quite found his groove on the mound for the Horned Frogs, but the talented lefty showed enough this fall to give Schlossnagle and Saarloos confidence that he can be a starter for TCU.

The Frogs are coming off of a 1-1 weekend in LA that saw them rout USC Friday night 10-1 in a game they dominated in all phases, including a stellar performance by Jared Janczak. After weather forced the cancellation of Saturday’s much-anticipated battle with UCLA, TCU fell to Vanderbilt Sunday at Dodger Stadium, 7-4. A frustrating game that saw starter Nick Lodolo get touched up early, but featured a marquee performance from Sean Wymer out of the bullpen and the much-anticipated (hopefully) awakening of Conner Shepherd’s dormant bat with a three-run blast.

The Frogs continue to ride the hot bats of Josh Watson (.417/.541/.792) and Luken Baker (.341/.481/.683). The two are tied for the team lead with four home runs a piece, and Watson has drawn 11 walks against 14 strikeouts. He also has 14 RBI, best of the squad, edging out Baker’s 12. Zach Humphreys had a good weekend for TCU, and has been an under-the-radar star early. With a .357 batting average and nine RBI, he has started incredibly well in his first season behind home plate full time, and has the best strikeout number, with just five in 42 at bats.

The star of the show for TCU has been the bullpen though, Cal Coughlin, Augie Mihlbauer, Durbin Feltman, Haylen Green, James Notart, and Trey Morris have each yet to allow a run this season, combining to allow just 13 hits in 37.1 innings of work. They also have 43 combined Ks, led by Feltman’s 10, and have surrendered just one extra base hit.

If there has been a concern early for TCU, it’s errors - the Frogs have 12 already this season, with seven coming at the hot corner. If they can clean up the defense at the corners, even just a little bit, it’s likely worth 1-2 more wins already.

For Rice, starter Roel Garcia has been exceptional, but in very limited work. The righty has pitched just 5.0 innings of work, allowing one run on three hits with five Ks. Opponents are hitting just .167 against him. Offensively, Ford Proctor (.467/.557/.550) leads the team in several major categories, including RBI (17), walks (16), and hits (28). He does have 14 strikeouts and just one home run. Justin Collins leads the team with three long balls, but is batting just .206 on the season, as only three players, Proctor, Braden Comeaux (.358), and Ryan Chandler (.342) are hitting above .300. The lineup is incredibly top-heavy, and there isn’t much on the bench, so if Smith can get through the clean-up spot, he should be able to minimize big innings.

The Owls have just two saves on the season, but their main options out of the pen Garrett Gayle (2.89 ERA, 14 Ks in 9.1 innings) and Nick Sliber (3.86 ERA, 6 Ks in 9.1 innings) have been solid, while the rest of the relievers are inconsistent at best. If TCU can eat up their arms with long at bats and crooked number innings, they have a great shot at getting back in the win column tonight.

The Owls have played a challenging early season schedule, including a 3-0 loss to Virginia and a four game sweep at the hands of Stanford, so they won’t be intimidated by the Frogs, But, this once proud program is still rebuilding, and they don’t have the talent - yet - of their Tuesday night foe. It won’t be easy, but this is the kind of game TCU has to find a way to win. It should be a good tuneup ahead of the Minnesota series at home this weekend and the Big 12 opener the following.