A little over a month ago, the TCU baseball team was treading water. The 2014 season had that same 2013 vibe in which the team never put it together and missed the postseason for the first time in coach Jim Schlossnagle’s 10-year tenure.
A couple of meetings, however, changed the identity of the club, snapped some players out of funks and has ignited the best stretch of baseball the Horned Frogs have had in two years.
TCU (27-13) has won 12 of its past 13 games since losing the final two games of a three-game series with Texas Tech by a combined score of 22-4 on March 23-24.
After that Sunday loss, a 12-2 drubbing, Schlossnagle met with his players and told them that all they should focus on is their own role on the team.
The next night, pitchers Brandon Finnegan and Preston Morrison jointly called a meeting of the pitching staff at Finnegan’s house that lasted two hours. The two juniors wanted to remind the staff that it had what it takes to make a run.
“That whole series was bad,” Finnegan said. “The way we pitched it was like we were scared of every hitter that came up. Basically, we told them if we do our job we’ll have nothing to worry about.”
They reminded the staff to trust its stuff and to attack hitters “instead of backing off and being scared of giving up hits and any runs.”
“Preston and I weren’t going to take no for an answer,” said Finnegan (7-2), who starts Friday against Cal State Northridge. “We said what needed to be done and everybody else agreed.”
The results have been astonishing. TCU is 14-3 since March 24 and the pitchers have allowed only one run the past five games. The team’s 10 shutouts are one shy of the school record set in 1972.
The meeting helped nobody more than Morrison, who had the shortest outing of his career on March 22 in a 10-2 loss to Tech. He’s allowed only two runs in 30 innings since with 24 strikeouts and only four walks. The meeting was also a wake-up call for closer Riley Ferrell, who allowed a two-run double in the Sunday loss to Tech.
“Let’s go down with our best stuff,” said Ferrell, who has nine saves and an 0.76 ERA in 32 2/3 innings. “We don’t have the pitching philosophy that we’re going to fool around with hitters and try to make them look stupid. We’re going to pitch to our strength and do what we’ve got to do to get people out.”
It’s not as if TCU pitching was horrible before this streak. In fact, the Frogs’ staff had remained near the top of the Big 12 leaders in ERA and strikeouts.
And it’s also not just the pitching that has allowed TCU to sweep West Virginia and Texas. Four everyday players are batting over .300, including Garrett Crain who is edging Boomer White for the team lead with a .363 batting average.
Jerrick Suiter and Kevin Cron have combined for 42 RBIs in 40 games. In 57 games a year ago, they combined for 30.
“It’s not just our pitching staff, but our team as a whole has been looking for a year and a half to get on a little bit of a run,” TCU pitching coach Kirk Saarloos said.
“It starts on the mound, obviously. But I don’t think they’re doing anything special. I think they’re just doing what they can control. Making quality pitches. The defense has played awesome.”
The offense has put up more runs, too, allowing the pitchers to attack hitters without always worrying about giving up the lead.
Saarloos and Schlossnagle were told of the pitchers-only meeting days later. It’s a good sign, Saarloos said, that “they’re taking some pride and taking ownership of what’s going on on the field.”
“They need to be able to say things and air things out that they may not do in front of the coaching staff,” he said. “I think that really has a lot to do with where this team is.”