Well, the hope of an undefeated season is over, but TCU Baseball’s first loss of the year was quickly forgotten amid an 11 run outburst Monday afternoon. The Frogs absolutely raked in Minnesota, scoring 29 runs across three games, filling out a box score that felt more appropriate for the football stadium they called home for three days than the baseball venues they generally play in.
Saturday’s season opener was an absolute gem; led by Big 12 Pitcher of the Week Johnny Ray, the Frogs jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead and never looked back, as Ray threw a complete game shutout while allowing just two hits and striking out seven. Ray is a special talent; the highly-touted prospect has struggled staying healthy and with control, but has looked the part of big-league starter through his first two starts in purple, regularly throwing in the mid-90s and showing better than advertised control. He’s benefited from the big bats of the potent lineup behind him, too, as the Frogs racked up 12 hits, walked five times, and blasted four home runs.
Monday was more of the same; behind Russell Smith, TCU scored the first five runs of the ball game, and apart from a pair of solo home runs, the Golden Gophers never truly threatened. Conner Shepherd had his second three-hit, three-RBI, one home run day of the weekend, while Zach Humphreys drove in three as well on a pair of doubles. TCU had four doubles on the day, stole three bases, and walked 12 times Monday, while getting five solid innings from Smith and four hitless innings out of the bullpen when four relievers combined to allow just one base runner.
We learned a lot about the bullpen over the extended weekend when they were used — Drew Hill continues to be a candidate to move into the rotation with two more strong innings Monday, and the plethora of talented young arms continued to show up. Hill gave way to Austin Krob who gave way to Harrison Beethe, and between the two of them, they retired six straight. We also saw more of Haylen Green and Marcelo Perez, two guys capable of starting but currently being used as absolutely dominant arms out of the pen. Green has done a little bit of everything for TCU Baseball in his time in Fort Worth, and could be the Trey Teakell/Brian Trieglaff of this year’s staff Perez was a valuable closer in 2019 but emerged in the fall as someone who could be starting this spring. He’s been exceptional out of the pen through the first two weeks of the season, allowing just three hits over 3.2 innings, striking out seven, walking just one, and not allowing a single run. What his place will be down the line is to be determined, but without question, the sophomore will be a valuable arm for Jim Schlossnagle and Kirk Saarloos.
Speaking of pitchers and bullpens, we have to talk about Sunday, too I suppose, and the mismanagement of the pitching staff that very potentially cost TCU a win. Charles King was one of the best and most consistent arms down the stretch last season, and played as big a role as anyone not named Nick Lodolo in willing the Frogs to the postseason. But, he just didn’t have it Sunday.
And that’s okay!
What’s not okay is leaving him out there to twirl in the wind while comeback after comeback by the offense was wasted. King allowed one run on two hits in the first and another on a home run in the second. TCU tied things up with two in the top of the third, only to see Minnesota score three times in the bottom of the inning. Once again, they battled back, scoring three times in the top of the fourth.
At that point, Schloss could have gone to any number of pitchers in the bullpen, as literally every single reliever on the trip was available thanks to Ray’s complete game Saturday night. Instead, he put King back on the bump, where he proceeded to allow back to back singles and a run on a wild pitch, before a single brought home what would turn out to be the game-winning score. That’s when the Frogs finally went to the pen, brining in Haylen Green, who turned a quick double play to end the inning and the scoring for Minnesota.
I wasn’t in Minneapolis to ask, but I am sure the thinking was something along the lines of it being a long season and needing to let King work out of trouble — but also, Schloss has been talking a lot about needing to get his plethora of relievers work, and that seems like the perfect situation for it. Though there are a lot of young guys that might not be the first choice in situations like that, there are a lot of veterans, too — Drew Hill could have been a perfect candidate in a tight spot, something he has already had success in this season already. Regardless of the reason, the Frogs scored just one more time to end the game trailing by one run, and earning their first loss of the season in the process. It’s just one loss, and in the grand scheme it won’t matter (they still won the series, after all), but it’s something worth keeping an eye on over the course of the year as the competition gets tougher.
As for King? I am not worried about him getting roughed up in a game; it’s a long season, that’s going to happen. He is a contact pitcher, and more often than not, the contact tends to go to the defense. It just didn’t happen Sunday.
Next up for the Frogs is a home date with SFA, who they face off with Wednesday night at Lupton Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 PM, which is also when TCU Women’s Basketball tips off with Texas and TCU Football’s Night of Champions begins. Might as well park your car and wear your comfortable walking shoes, it’s going to be a busy night.