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First Pitch: Offense returns, pitching shake-up, and questions from right field

Today, we go more in-depth on the series this weekend against Northwestern.

Bettmann Archive

Welcome to another installment of First Pitch! This week, I will dive into the weekend sweep of Northeastern University. The offense seems to have finally returned and the pitching staff was a tad bit different this weekend as well. Without further ado, let’s get into the good stuff!

What’s going on in right field?

Going into the season, it seemed as Connor Beck or John McMillon would have right field locked down. McMillon never saw right field, as he has become the main Saturday pitcher and only bats in the designated hitter and pitcher role. Connor Beck started all of one series before getting switched out for Kurt Wilson. Wilson is the most versatile player on the team as he has played in four different fielder positions and has also pitched. Wilson appeared to be the guy starting in right field, but week after week, Cody Masters has slowly become the starter in right field, starting all four games this weekend as Kurt Wilson got no time this weekend in the field or on the mound against Northeastern. The only reason I ask this question is all other fielding positions have been solid or on some sort of rotation (catcher). Is Cody Masters the guy for the rest of the season, or will he be replaced by the next man up in a few weeks?

Where did Zach Rheams come from?

The Senior didn’t produce too much in his first year at Texas Tech, only starting in 16 games as the designated hitter. In these games, he only hit .133 and had two home runs. Rheams, a junior college transfer worked to get his weight down this past offseason. This season, it appeared as though Rheams would stay in a similar role to the one he had last year. Rheams has gotten a great opportunity these past two series and has taken advantage of it. He started one game at Baylor and also started all four games this past weekend against Northeastern. This season, Rheams has hit .364 and has so far doubled his home-run output with four. He has really come on lately as he has hit all four of his home runs in the last five games. This begs another question, is this a short-term spurt, or can Rheams continue his hot streak and become a reliable part of this offense?

Is the offense back for good?

One thing that was dramatically improved this last weekend was run output. The team put up 56 runs this weekend, the most in one series since the team put up 83 against Howard in 1999. 22 of said runs came in Friday’s 22-3 blowout win. A number which really stood out to me was the number of walks this teams drew. In Friday’s game alone, they drew 14 walks, only two less than the number of hits they had (16). This team can get on base without even having to hit the ball, and that is something that can sustain itself. Not one player is just getting a load of base on balls either, as no one on this team ranks in the top 50 in walks drawn in the NCAA. Of the 15 batters that had one at-bat in this game, only four of them were not walked. This is a really impressive number for any team playing any level of competition.

This one stat alone does not fully answer my question. Yes, I understand good teams have dry spells, but this offense is one of the most powerful in the country. They have put 20 or more runs on two different teams and they can also consistently have 8-10 run games. I think the home field advantage helps this team out a ton. This team has yet to lose at home and in their 12 road games, they have only scored over 10 runs twice. This is a huge drop compared to the 8 times they have done it at home. This team can be a powerful offense, but do their road struggles continue to make this team inconsistent?

Have our four starting pitchers been identified?

In a short answer, probably not. Caleb Kilian made his first start of the season on Saturday in game one of the doubleheader, getting his second win of the season. He’s been used in two to three inning stretches as a reliever this year but in this game, he went five full innings. Starting pitching going five innings is not something Coach Tadlock usually does. This season, the only two pitchers we are sure to see on a weekly basis are Davis Martin and John McMillon. Ryan Shetter is also someone we will most likely see every week, but I have no clue which day. The past two weeks he has been the Sunday starter. He has also pitched in a weekday role, something he appears to be comfortable with. With there being no more four-game weekend series, I believe Shetter will either be kept as a Sunday starter or be pushed into the week as the weekday starter. My real question is whether Kilian will start more games. He pitched really well against Northwestern, only giving up four hits, and one run on 87 pitches. If he can continue that output as a starter, we most likely have found the fourth starter, or something close to it.

This is all I have this week on First Pitch! Do any of you have any lingering questions to be answered? If so, please leave those questions in the comment section below!