TCU hopes to turn up bats against Texas Tech as Big 12 play begins

03/20/2014 4:11 PM

11/12/2014 4:19 PM

Not sure what to make of the TCU baseball team thus far? Join the club.

There are reasons to be hopeful as the Horned Frogs (12-8) begin Big 12 play with a three-game series against Texas Tech (17-6, 1-2 Big 12) at Lupton Stadium this weekend.

Game 1 is at 6:30 p.m. Friday with left-hander Brandon Finnegan (3-2) facing Red Raiders right-hander Dominic Moreno (1-3). Both pitchers carry anemic ERAs into the matchup — Finnegan, who shares the national lead with 55 strikeouts, has a 1.72 ERA, and Moreno is at 1.59.

TCU’s pitching has mostly been superb during nonconference action. Before Tuesday’s loss at Oklahoma, the Frogs’ 2.11 team ERA ranked 11th nationally and the best in the Big 12.

But the Frogs’ 9-5 loss to Oklahoma — which counted as a nonconference game — highlights two concerns. First, the Big 12 should be undeniably tight this spring, making every game of every series loom large.

“In our league, I think any team could finish first or last right now. Any team,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “The pitching in our league is much improved from where it was at this time last year.”

That includes Texas Tech, which has a team ERA of 2.90, which is good for top 50 in the country.

Secondly, and specific to TCU, the offense has, at times, struggled to produce. Through 20 games, TCU has stranded 184 runners. That’s a better problem to have than last year when TCU’s offense was battling quicksand from the jump to just reach base.

Through 20 games a year ago, the Frogs had left 158 men on but were batting a lowly .245 as a team. The offense is improved this season and is batting .271.

“It seems like we’re stuck in neutral,” Schlossnagle said. “We’ve had our moments. It would be a bigger concern if we weren’t getting guys on and not scoring.”

Against OU on Tuesday, TCU left the bases loaded three times. But twice, Schlossnagle said, Connor Castellano connected solidly with nothing to show for it on flyouts.

Important offensive components have been out recently, which also has contributed to the scoring issues.

Garrett Crain, who is batting .385, has missed seven games with a separated shoulder. He may be available in a limited role this weekend, and the team hopes he’s back completely next week. Jerrick Suiter has missed eight games with a pulled oblique.

Kevin Cron has been used as a designated hitter and leads the team with 14 RBIs, but he hasn’t played first since injuring his elbow. He’s a week away from starting a throwing program. Derek Odell has started to get hot at the plate after beginning the season with an injury and has raised his average to .281.

“All those guys are improved and putting up good numbers. We just haven’t seen it all come together yet,” Schlossnagle said. “You can look at it as it’s going to come together, and that’s the way we’re choosing to look at it.”

Now’s the time to do it.

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