For the last month, TCU has been so hot that it has rarely trailed in a game, much less lost one. The Horned Frogs had only trailed four times since April 1 and still won three of those games.
So when Kansas State’s Ross Kivett sent the second pitch of the game over the left-field wall Saturday afternoon at Lupton Stadium, the jolt put TCU in unfamiliar territory.
Freshman left-hander Tyler Alexander maintained his poise, however, and held the Wildcats to just three more hits over seven innings as TCU won 3-1. It’s the Frogs 11th consecutive win and 18th in their last 19 games.
The former Southlake Carroll star not only stifled K-State, but he gave the Frogs’ bullpen another breather that allows Brandon Finnegan to rest instead of starting Sunday’s series finale.
Finnegan, the usual Friday starter, was pushed back to allow inflammation in his throwing shoulder to heal. Finnegan feels good, but Alexander’s deep outing, coupled with Preston Morrison’s complete game Friday, has allowed TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle to start Jordan Kipper (7-2) on Sunday with the added benefit of a rested bullpen.
“We have options,” Schlossnagle said.
That’s because Alexander (6-3) shook off the first-inning homer, which came on a changeup low in the zone. He finished with five strikeouts and no walks. K-State only had one other runner reach second base.
“It didn’t get in my head too much,” Alexander said. “I’ve definitely grown up a lot. The more I’ve thrown here has really aged me in a good way. The coaches are great with helping me with that and the older pitchers are good with that, too.”
No. 21 TCU (33-13, 12-5 Big 12) has held opponents to one run or less 25 times in 2014, including 12 times (with eight shutouts) since April 1.
TCU did all its scoring with two outs in the fourth. Boomer White led off with a single and Jerrick Suiter walked with two outs before Dylan Fitzgerald roped a single to right field, scoring White. Keaton Jones punched a 1-2 pitch down the line in right for a two-run triple and a 3-1 lead.
“I feel like the difference right now for our team is we don’t panic in those situations,” said Jones, who made several more hit-saving stops at shortstop. “Once we get a lead, our pitchers aren’t going to give up very many runs, knock on wood.”
Kivett, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, made several defensive gems in center field, taking away potential TCU hits. Starter Nate Griep (3-5) took the loss after allowing four hits and three walks for K-State (23-24, 4-13). Jake Fromson came on to face Jones, who pulled a pitch just foul down the third-base line before tripling to right.
After a lead-off hit in the eighth, Trey Teakell replaced Alexander and struck out two before Riley Ferrell came in to record the final four outs and earn his 12th save.