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Monday Morning Manager: Frogs (mostly) pass toughest test of season to date

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TCU Baseball faced two top five teams in So Cal, and came away with one win.

TCU Baseball vs ACU | February 26, 2020 | Lupton Stadium | Fort Worth, TX
TCU Baseball vs ACU | February 26, 2020 | Lupton Stadium | Fort Worth, TX
Melissa Triebwasser

It was a bit of a disappointing weekend on the West Coast for TCU Baseball, who dropped a 2-1 decision Friday to USC and a 4-3 ninth inning match with Vanderbilt on a walk-off walk Sunday. They bookend losses sandwiched an impressive 8-4 win over UCLA, giving the Frogs a one for two effort against top five programs in their series. Though they leave the College Classic with a losing record across the three games, they proved that they can hang with the best teams in the country, with just one weekend remaining before Big 12 play.

The Good:

TCU bounced back from a slow start offensively Friday night to pour it on the Bruins Saturday, overmatching a highly-rated UCLA team from the opening inning. Charles King looked much better in his second road start than his first, scattering 10 hits across 5.2 innings while striking out four. King got touched up a bit in the fourth and fifth, but working with a big lead, minimized the damage and kept his team in a position to win.

Gene Wood and Conner Shepherd had solid weekends, combining for two home runs, seven hits, seven RBIs, and scoring four runs between them. And in a weekend where the starting pitching was subpar by TCU standards, Haylen Green (5.1 innings, one hit allowed, seven strikeouts) Austin Krob (3.1 innings, two hits, five strikeouts), and Drew Hill (who was great for three innings Sunday) stepped up and kept the Frogs in each of the three games.

Also falling decidedly in the “good” category is freshman outfielder Sam Thompson; the Owasso native slid into the starting lineup Friday night and stayed there, as Jim Schlossnagle slide Gene Wood to first for Austin Henry, moved Porter Brown to right field (and dropped him in the batting order), and dropped Thompson in the lead-off spot and left field. After going 0-3 with a walk Friday, Thompson was 2-4 with two runs scored Saturday and 1-3 with two more runs scored Sunday. He has a way of getting on base and coming around, a definite spark plug in the lineup and on the base paths. And he will just get better with time.

The Bad:

There have been some issues with starting pitching over the last few weeks; Charles King struggled mightily in Minnesota but bounced back with Cal, while Johnny Ray managed to get through just five innings against Cal last week and 2.2 in TCU’s 2-1 loss to USC Friday. Ray has great stuff; through 21.1 innings he has 21 strikeouts, but he can be prone to wildness (eight walks), and tends to get hit in bunches. The knock on him has been consistency; if he can shake this mini slump ahead of Big 12 play, he gives the Frogs as good a Friday night starter as you will find in the conference.

We should also talk about how the staff has been managed; Schloss and Saarloos had a quick hook with Ray Friday, but stuck with King through a three run fourth Saturday (albeit with a big lead), and stretched Drew Hill into the ninth, his fourth inning of work, Sunday, despite having plenty of options on the back end. Hill was outstanding through three innings of work, but didn’t have it as the ninth dawned. In a tie game, going to Marcelo Perez or Harrison Beethe seemed like the obvious choice, especially once Hill surrendered a lead-off double. There have definitely been questions raised about how long pitchers have been left to twist in the wind in the early goings, but there’s time to clean it up before Big 12 play. There are lots of really good pitchers sitting in that bullpen that need work — work ‘em.

The Ugly:

The Frogs left the bats at baggage claim Friday night apparently, scoring just one run and looking generally disinterested in the opening game of the College Classic, and losing to a USC team that actually ended up having a pretty good weekend. They stranded seven runners Friday, six on Saturday, and six more Sunday. The seventh inning against Vanderbilt was especially concerning; the Frogs had two on with no outs and loaded the bases with just one away. But two of the better hitters in the lineup (Gray Rodgers and Conner Shepherd) struck out to end the inning, two of TCU’s 9 Ks on the day and 26 on the weekend. A strikeout per inning average isn’t ideal.

What’s Next:

The Horned Frogs are scheduled to play San Diego State Tuesday night, but with forecasts predicting a 90% chance of rain, that game is currently in doubt. Should they play, first pitch is scheduled for 8:00 PM CT. Following that is a home series with Maryland of the Big Ten, with all three games being played at Lupton Stadium.