#3 TCU Horned Frogs (5-2) vs UC Irvine (6-2) | Location: Lupton Field - Fort Worth, TX | Series: 1-2 (UCI)
Friday March 2nd | 6:30 p.m. | 88.7 KTCU | RHP Jared Janczak (0-1, 2.77 ERA) vs. RHP Andre Pallante (2-0, 0.00 ERA)
Saturday March 3rd | 2:00 p.m. | 88.7 KTCU | Nick Lodolo (2-0, 3.18 ERA) vs. RHP Louis Raymond (1-0, 2.77)
Sunday March 4th | 1:00 p.m. | FSSW | 88.7 KTCU | TBA (expected to be Russell Smith (1-0, 9.00 ERA)) vs. RHP Trenton Denholm (0-1, 6.75)
TCU Baseball hosts the UC Irvine Anteaters this weekend for a three game set, their second weekend series of the young season. The Frogs are coming off of a big win over UT Arlington, a game that was finally played after three weather-related cancellations, where they used the long ball and drew a ton of walks on their way to a 14-1 mercy rule win in 6.5 innings. The Anteaters are another quality program, as the Frogs continue their run of playing likely post season participants to begin their 2018 campaign.
These two teams played a series out west a season ago, and the Anteaters stomped the Frogs in the opener and won 6-3 in the second game before TCU bounced back with a 16-7 victory in the finale. The California trip was a turning point for TCU, who went 1-3 out west, before getting right and going on a tear that took them all the way to Omaha.
For the Frogs, Josh Watson and Luken Baker have been leading the charge early, both with high averages (.440 and .381 respectively) with two home runs a piece. Watson, who struggled through a sophomore slump, tinkered with his swing one last time, according to Stefan Stevenson of the Star-Telegram, and the results have been outstanding.
“This year, I’ve found a stance that was comfortable for me,” said Watson, who has started every game the past two seasons. That wasn’t the case a year ago. “If I didn’t have a good day I changed my stance the next day.”
During summer ball, Watson studied his numbers and realized one of the things Mosiello had long taught: Put the ball in play.
”When I put balls in play and gave myself a chance I had a higher batting average,” Watson said. “If it’s in my zone, I have to have confidence in myself that if I make contact it’s going to find some grass.”
For Baker, it’s simply a matter of being healthy and in the lineup - when he’s in the box, he is as feared as any hitter in college baseball. He has had more protection in 2018 as well, as freshmen Adam Oviedo is hitting above .400 with two doubles and seven RBI and senior Michael Landestoy is tied for the team lead in RBI with eight.
While the bats have been strong early, it’s the pitching that is carrying the team through the first month of the season, as a host of freshmen have made their mark early, joining a veteran group that seems primed to take TCU on another long run. Though the starters have not been quite as sharp as expected, the bullpen has been nearly unhittable, with eight players boasting a 0.00 ERA and the unit allowing just 15 hits and three earned runs in 31 innings of work. TCU pitchers have 63 strikeouts through their first seven games and just 20 walks, and when Jared Janczak and Nick Lodolo really get rolling, the arms have a chance to be as good as any unit we have seen in Fort Worth in the Jim Schlossnagle era.
The most interesting nugget of the week comes around the Sunday starter from the first two games, junior Sean Wymer, who has struggled in his transition from bullpen god to starting pitcher. Wymer came out after just four innings last Sunday against Long Beach, and it was revealed later in the week that he would get a day off as he deals with an unnamed issue. With a 7.56 ERA in 8.1 innings of work, it may make sense for the Frogs to move Wymer back to the pen where he has proven to be one of the best relievers in baseball - if they can identify a third weekend starter.
For their part, Irvine is off to a hot start, going 6-2 through their first eight games. The Anteaters have series wins over Nevada and Gonzaga, as well as midweek victories over LMU and San Diego State. They, like TCU, have done it with pitching - their staff average of 2.80 is among the country’s best and trails TCU by just a fraction. Andre Pallante has been a beast for UCI, throwing 13.1 shutout innings in his first two starts of the year, while allowing just six hits, walking two, and striking out an insane 19 opponents - including a 12 K effort in his most recent start. He is followed in the rotation by another righty in Louis Raymond, who has scattered 10 hits across 13 innings, but is 1-0 with a complete game on his resume. The Sunday matchup is an interesting one, as a pair of freshmen square off. Denholm has been tagged a bit early, allowing six runs on ten hits in just eight innings of work. Though his ERA is lower than Russell’s, who has a 9.00 on his record due to allowing one run in one inning of work, he has been tagged for a loss and holds an 0-1 record through two starts.
The Anteaters are led on offense by Jacob Castro, who leads the squad with a .438 average and has two doubles and a triple in 16 ABs. Ryan Fitzpatrick (.370), Nick Anderson (.333), and Jake Palmer (.316) are all hitting well early also, with Fitzpatrick and Andeson combing for 15 of the team’s 34 RBIs. Irvine has hit three home runs, struck out 57 times, and drawn 30 walks, while being plunked 13 times. For comparison’s sake, TCU has four long balls, matches the 57 strikeouts, but has drawn 43 BB, one of the best marks in the country.
Ultimately, Friday nights matchup between Janczak and Pallante should be a throwback pitcher’s duel that will be worth watching, and the other two games should be evenly matched as well. The Frogs should be able to lock up their third consecutive series victory on, and second straight on their home field, but it won’t be easy against another quality opponent.
Here are the game notes from www.gofrogs.com:
• TCU made it 2-for-2 in series victories with a 2-1 series win over Long Beach State this past weekend.
• TCU stretched its winning streak to three games with a 14-1 run-rule victory over UT Arlington Thursday.
• The bullpen has tossed 16 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings over the last four games and boasts a 0.90 ERA this season.
• Defensively, the Frogs committed just one error on in their last four games, raising their fielding percentage to .980.
• TCU’s offense has tallied double-digit hits in five of seven games this year.
• Oviedo’s .407 average ranks 20th among all freshmen in the NCAA.
• Luken Baker stretched his reached base safely streak to 35 games dating back to last year.
• Durbin Feltman is inching closer to the school career record for saves with his 28th on Sunday. He needs just five more to own the record.
UC IRVINE NOTABLES
• UC Irvine has won both of its series this season, taking two of three from Nevada and Gonzaga.
• The Anteaters are coming off a 9-4 victory against San Diego State.
• UC Irvine’s lone road contest came at Loyola Marymount, a 6-5 victory in 11 innings.
• The Anteaters are hitting .262 as a team and averaging 4.5 runs per game.
• Jacob Castro has gotten off to a solid start hitting .438, while Nick Anderson leads the way with eight RBIs.
• On the mound, the Anteaters boast a 2.80 ERA and have fanned 73 batters in 74 innings of work.
• Friday night starter Andre Pallante has not allowed a run in 13 1/3 innings pitched this season.
• Defensively, UC Irvine has been sound with just six errors for a .980 fielding percentage.
• They have surrendered seven stolen bases in eight attempts.
• TCU and UC Irvine are playing a weekend series for the second year in a row.
• UC Irvine is the second opponent from the Big West on TCU’s schedule this season (Long Beach State).
• The Horned Frogs and the Anteaters will be meeting for the fourth time on the field on Friday night.
• UC Irvine took two of three on its home field in 2017.
• The Anteaters won 11-2 and 6-3 in the first two games of the season before the Frogs won 16-7 in the series finale.