Hello and welcome to the third installment of First Pitch! This week has been a rough one for the Red Raiders, as they have dropped three out of their last five road games against top-5 opponents. These games have given me questions about pitching and finishing games strong. So, without further ado let’s dive in.
I can tell you right now, this was the hardest week of baseball that the Red Raiders will play this season. I was surprised that we didn’t win two of three at Kentucky but I wasn’t surprised that the 6’11 defending SEC pitcher of the year Sean Hjelle was able to shut us down for most of the game. The main takeaway from the weekend series is that our bullpen guys cannot handle the pressure of winning a game for us. In both of the losses to Kentucky, the game was within one run when Tadlock went to the pen to get his reliever. Look, both of the teams that we played will be vying for a spot in the College World Series in June. These losses are nothing to worry about and it gave our young guys a good look at what road games are gonna be like in conference and postseason play.
Should we be worried about the bullpen?
The short answer, no. The questions in the rotation have hampered the bullpen a little bit. This weekend, John McMillon was the only pitcher that was able to go 5 innings. Ryan Shetter was able to make it 4 but when the other three games on this trip resulted in pitchers being taken off the mound, it puts almost unnecessary pressure on the bullpen to win. This week has been challenging to every facet of this team and I think that this relatively you bullpen learned a ton from these experiences. Going into Big 12 play, I see a few key guys taking the reins in this bullpen. I see Jose Quezada and Caleb Kilian being our two middle relievers, being able to take on multiple innings and doing it efficiently as both have been able to get wins doing so. I especially see one of them pitching three or more innings on Sunday, as the starter spot on that day has been a revolving door. The consistency from these two guys makes me confident that we will be okay going into conference play.
Out in all three of the losses of this five-game road trip, I as an observer realized how important Micheal Davis is to this team. He is their emotional and on the field leader. It’s not like the guys who played in his stead (Kurt Wilson and Gabe Holt) played bad, in fact, I am saying the opposite. These two stepped in and played well at shortstop. I think the main thing with Micheal Davis is his ability to step up to the plate and make clutch plays. That ability was not the reason that the team seemed more comfortable with Davis when he played this week. Davis appears to be the ultimate glue guy for this team. He keeps everyone even-keeled just by his mere presence on the baseball field. Let’s hope he continues to step up and play well as Big 12 play starts soon.
Who is the third weekend starter? Volume 2:
Boy does this question get harder to answer. As of right now, I don’t think anyone will settle into the third weekend starter role. I think not placing anyone there permanently hurts your bullpen, which is already tired on a Sunday. Let me give you an update on my list I gave you last week. Erickson Lanning seems to have been permanently booted from this role as he has not started a game in a few weeks now. Ryan Sublette again started on Sunday but didn’t make it out of the second inning. As of right now, Sublette is my guy to stay starting on Sunday. I don’t think it will last if he can’t get out of the third inning, which he hasn’t done in either of his starts. Connor Queen also got a start this week, he didn’t pitch very long but look to him as a dark horse to make some starts on Sunday.
How well do you think the Red Raiders will fare this weekend as conference play begins? Who do you think is the third weekend starter? Do you have any question that you want me to answer next week? Please leave your thoughts and questions in the comment section below or tweet at me @jacobharris_55.