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Monday Morning Manager: TCU Baseball sends a message

The Frogs got it done in all three phases of the game in beating Baylor decisively for a conference-opening sweep.

Zach Humphreys and Gene Wood provided plenty of power across the Frogs’ three game sweep of Big 12 rival Baylor.
Melissa Triebwasser

After an up and down start to non-conference play, the Horned Frogs made a statement over the weekend as they opened the “second season” of college baseball, sweeping a solid Baylor team in three games in a way that certainly made the rest of the Big 12 take notice.

The TCU offense, which had been suspect through most of the first month of the season, showed up and showed out Saturday and Sunday, as the Frogs scored 21 runs and smashed six home runs against a Baylor pitching staff that had an ERA of 3.84 coming into the weekend.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The series began Friday with a true pitcher’s duel, as TCU’s Russell Smith and Baylor’s Tyler Thomas dueled through a tension-filled 6.2 innings a piece, with neither pitcher allowing a runner to reach scoring position until the fourth inning and Thomas taking a no-hitter into Phillip Sikes singled with one out in the sixth. The Frogs went from being completely shut down to breaking the shutout in that frame, scoring the first run of the ball game when Zach Humphreys tripled to plate Sikes. TCU added a run in the bottom of the seventh after Haylen Green replaced Smith on a Hunter Wolfe solo shot, and Humphreys matched Wolfe in the eighth with his second RBI of the night to undo the unearned run the Bears got in the top of the frame. The game was delightful from a fan perspective; though the action was somewhat limited until the late innings, Lupton was rocking and the entire contest rolled along at a two hour and ten minute clip.

It would be the last time that Baylor Baseball would be competitive with their counterparts, as the Frogs scored five runs in the bottom of the first inning both Saturday and Sunday while Austin Krob and Johnny Ray took their own no-hitters into the seventh and fifth innings respectively. In addition to the solo shots from Wolfe and Humphreys, the Frogs got a three run blast from Wolfe and two run ball from Gene Wood Saturday, as well as three run dingers from Wood and Taylor Sunday. It was the kind of power display that had been lacking early in the season, and a nice breeze blowing out certainly helped the cause.

Rotation, Rotation, Rotation:

Johnny Ray missed two weeks due to COVID protocols, and while we of course don’t want to see any illness or missed time from players, there is a silver lining: changing the weekend rotation from Ray-Smith-Krob to Smith-Krob-Ray seems to be the perfect way to roll out the trio.

Smith is an imposing figure that can overpower opponents with a mid-90s fastball and a brutal slider. Austin Krob has big lead heat (he averaged nearly 92 mph on his fastball Saturday and peaked at almost 95) and can keep batters off-balance with a slider that dips down to 82 mph. Ray, in front of a bevy of scouts, hit 98 mph Sunday while mixing four pitches — including a brutal 81 mph curve.

It’s not a lineup any team is going to enjoy playing — something Baylor learned the hard way, as they watched their batting averages dip precipitously game by game.

Haylen Green and Who Else?:

The bullpen still has some questions marks, but TCU got a good look at a handful of guys in different roles over the weekend.

The only pitcher to enter in a pressure situation was Green, who was his normal spectacular self across two innings of one-hit ball Friday night, with only an error ruining the shutout. Freshman Braxton Pearson made his TCU debut Saturday and acquitted himself well, and Drew Hill finished out the game with two outs including a strikeout, but Augie Mihlbauer continued to struggle, allowing two runs on one hit and a walk. After being an All-Conference freshman, he has not found his stride, and TCU will be better when he does.

We saw lots of River Ridings Sunday, another freshman who has been really good. The Prestonwood Christian alum leads all relievers with 10.0 innings this spring, and has yet to allow an earned run — while striking out 15. Other than veterans Green and Chuck King, he seems to be the guy that Schloss trusts most. Jacob Meador, another guy that seems high on the list got some work Sunday, and Chuck King finished things out in impressive fashion. We still face the question of who is the Frogs’ closer, and did not see any of Harrison Beethe or Garret Wright, the two leading candidates, mostly because they were not needed.

Well Over The Hump:

Zach Humphreys has been beyond red-hot. This past weekend was emblematic of that, as the senior catcher went 7-13 with a double, a triple, and a home run, scoring five times and driving in five runs. On the season he is batting .315 with five doubles and five dingers, and has become one of, if not THE, most feared hitter in the Frogs lineup.

We would be remiss to not also mention the two bombs each off the bats of Wolfe and Wood, or the performance the two true freshmen in the lineup — Elijah Nunez and Brayden Taylor — put together, both in the box and on defense. Nunez looked to turn the corner Saturday after a couple hard weeks at the plate, and Taylor accounted for five hits and five batted in. But it was this catch:

... that had folks talking all weekend long. And for good reason.

Wally Pipp-Porter:

Porter Brown deserves a shout out as well; after two injury plagued years in Fort Worth, the ‘still technically a redshirt freshman’ was inserted into the starting lineup when true freshman Luke Boyers went down with an injury. Now, it’s going to be tough for Boyers (who was playing really great) to get back on the card. Brown went 5-11 over the weekend with two walks, and was a menace on the basepaths when he reached safely. Him in the seven hole is flat-out unfair.

Stat of the Series:

10 TCU pitchers combined to strikeout 25 Bears while walking just 6. They allowed just three earned runs and posted a miniscule .74 WHIP. The three starters held Baylor hitters to a 0.109 average, despite the Bears coming in with the conference’s best team batting average.

The Bears never had a chance.

Next Up:

TCU plays at UT Arlington Tuesday night and continues a two week road stretch with series at Oklahoma and Texas Tech bookending a trip to Stephenville to face Tarleton State.

First pitch Tuesday is set for 6:30pm.