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Tuesday Morning Manager: Grand Slams > Grand Canyon

TCU is hitting the cover off the ball, unless Lodolo is on the mound.

TCU C Zach Humphreys after his two home-run day, including a grand slam, against Grand Canyon
Jamie Plunkett

On last week’s podcast Melissa and I talked about how, if everything went right, TCU could be heading into this week’s game against Sam Houston State sitting at 6-1 with a ton of momentum.

Well that almost happened. TCU is 5-2, and despite another shaky Friday night for the bats everything continues to signal that this team is positioning itself for a deep, deep run in the playoffs.

The Frogs beat Abilene Christian 12-4 last Wednesday, and proceeded to take two of three from Grand Canyon University over the weekend, dropping Friday night’s game 4-1 before winning Saturday and Sunday by scores of 17-9 and 6-5, respectively.

There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s jump right in.

The Good

Nick Lodolo’s slider. The junior finally made the jump this weekend. Despite earning his second loss of the season Lodolo fanned 10 hitters, using a loaded arsenal that included a new slider he threw in a bullpen session for the first time just two days before his start.

Jim Schlossnagle said after the game that if TCU gets 80-90% of what they got from Lodolo on Friday night, he’s going to be an “elite, elite” college pitcher for the rest of the season.

A legitimate power surge. Last season it took TCU 11 games to hit their fifth home run. They didn’t hit any in their opening weekend, but have blasted off nine in their past four games, included five on Saturday.

Alex Isola, Jake Guenther, and Zach Humphreys all hit multiple dingers during the surge, while Johnny Rizer, Conner Shepherd, and Austin Henry also got in on the action. The amount of power on this team is seriously impressive.

Even when the balls weren’t going over the fence, the entire team was hitting the ball h-a-r-d. TCU hit 19 extra base hits over the course of the last four games.

Everyone is hitting. TCU hit 38-135 from the plate over the past four games, good for a team batting average of .281. That’s insane. What’s even crazier is that is lower than their season-long average to this point (.311).

Plate discipline is rampant. TCU walked 25 times over the past four games to just 22 strikeouts. On the season their walk to strikeout ratio is almost 1:1 (39:43). They’ve done an incredible job of getting deep in counts and forcing opposing pitchers to throw hittable pitches.

Jake Eissler, duh. For the second straight weekend Eissler came on early to relieve a TCU starter. This time it was Jared Janczak, who gave up four runs in less than two innings pitched. After giving up a home run against his first batter, Eissler retired the next 16 hitters he faced, taking TCU from the second inning through the eighth, earning his second win of the season.

Relay relay relay. TCU was in danger of blowing a three run lead in the eighth inning on Sunday, when Quin Cotton hit a rope down the right field line. As Grand Canyon’s baserunner motored around third, Andrew Keefer scooped up the ball and fired it to Jake Guenther, who made a perfect relay to Alex Isola at the plate, gunning the runner down by several feet. It saved TCU’s one run margin, and ultimately, the margin by which TCU would win the game.

The Bad

Nick Lodolo’s run support. The Frogs have scored one run in Lodolo’s two starts, meaning that Lodolo is 0-2 on the season despite boasting a 3.00 ERA, an 0.83 WHIP, and 12:1 strikeout to walk ratio in 12 innings pitched. He’s also got a .214 batting average against, meaning that even when he gives up runs, it’s not happening because he’s getting rocked.

Part of this lack of run support is due to TCU seeing the ace from Cal State Fullerton and GCU in those two games, but the question remains if these games are aberrations or the start of a troubling trend. TCU has scored 54 runs in the five games not started by Lodolo this season.

Lodolo seems patient enough to wait and see, though. After Friday’s game he said, “I know the runs will come.”

Hunter Wolfe’s ankle. TCU’s JUCO transfer infielder has had a hot start to the season, but he rolled his ankle stepping on first base during Saturday’s 17-9 victory, and sat out Sunday’s matchup. Bobby Goodloe slid from third to short in his absence, and Conner Shepherd made the start at third.

Schloss noted after Sunday’s win that if this was a conference weekend or they were in the midst of a playoff run that Wolfe probably could have sucked it up and played, but they aren’t going to risk anything like that this early in the season. Wolfe should be considered day-to-day, but he probably won’t play against Sam Houston State on Wednesday.

Of course, with Wolfe banged up TCU is now a little short-handed on infielders, considering the expected starter at third base, Adam Oviedo, has yet to play this season. Schloss gave an update on Oviedo after the Saturday night game, saying that he had just started a throwing program and was probably still a few weeks away from being able to play.

What’s Next?

The Frogs travel to Huntsville, TX on Wednesday to play Sam Houston State before heading on to Houston for the Shriners College Baseball Classic.

Schloss was asked Sunday specifically about playing in-state teams, and he noted that there wasn’t any added significance to playing teams like ACU, DBU, UTA, or SHSU, but he did note that “nobody wants to play Sam Houston,” but that TCU had an opening and they were available.

TCU’s schedule for the weekend in Houston has them facing some traditionally great teams in the state, though, and regardless of what Schloss says fans can use these games as bragging rights around the office.

TCU kicks off their weekend with a 3pm game against Houston on Friday afternoon. They face off against Texas A&M on Saturday night at 7pm, before closing out the weekend with a 7pm game against Rice on Sunday night.