Rather than let Brian Howard spend a week thinking about the worst start of his career, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle sent him back to the mound for an inning four days later.
Maybe it did the trick.
The senior right-hander threw a perfect inning with a strikeout on nine pitches Tuesday at Long Beach State. He’ll take his next start Sunday in the finale of the Horned Frogs’ Big 12-opening series against Kansas, which starts Friday at Lupton Stadium.
“He knows what he has to do to be successful,” Schlossnagle said. “He’s been around long enough to know, and he knows himself enough as a pitcher regarding what makes him successful. And he knows when he’s doing that, he can beat anybody on our schedule. And he knows when he’s not doing that, he can get beat by anybody on our schedule.”
TCU pitcher Brian Howard entered 2017 with a 14-2 career record and 3.25 earned-run average in 21 starts for the Horned Frogs.
Howard (2-2) was hammered for eight runs on eight hits in just a third of an inning last week at UC-Irvine. In his previous start, he gave up a four-run first inning against Texas A&M. A start earlier, he took a loss against Arizona State.
His ERA sits at 8.31 with a .293 batting average against, a result of “pitching behind in the count and up in the strike zone,” Schlossnagle said.
It’s hardly what the Frogs expected from a pitcher who was unbeaten in four postseason starts last year, including dominant Super Regional and College World Series performances, and who opted to return for his senior season instead of signing as a 17th-round pick of the Houston Astros.
But Schlossnagle will trust the track record.
“In the sport of baseball, barring injury, those things tend to play themselves out over time,” he said. “Now, that doesn’t mean somebody can’t have a bad season. But I’m not anticipating that.”
5.50 Earned-run average for TCU starting pitchers this season. In four games in California, it was 10.21.
Schlossnagle doesn’t have a college track record to look at with Nick Lodolo, but he’s encouraged by the freshman left-hander’s most recent start. After a four-run first against UC-Irvine on Saturday, Lodolo pitched four perfect innings with five strikeouts. He retired 14 in a row after a one-out double in the first inning.
“I think he’s really turning a corner,” Schlossnagle said. “Nick pitched really well after the first inning against a really good offensive team — in terms of batting average and pure numbers, it’s the best-hitting team we’ve played all year. I’m hoping that’s a turning point for him.”
Jared Janczak is second in the Big 12 in fewest hits allowed per nine innings, 4.78. Nick Lodolo is second in the Big 12 with 12.06 strikeouts per nine innings.
Lodolo (2-1, 6.32) is scheduled to open the Kansas series Friday night. Jared Janczak (4-0, 2.73) will start Saturday.
It’s the same set of weekend starters Schlossnagle has used all season, although this is the third combination.
“He’s talented enough that we’re going to keep running him out there,” Schlossnagle said of Lodolo, the Frogs’ top pitching recruit. “He’s got to earn it, too. I’m not afraid to sit a guy — I don’t care who he is — but he’s a good kid, he’s worked hard, he’s done everything we’ve asked. He has improved; there’s areas of his pitching that weren’t very good when he got here, like his breaking ball, and now that can be his best pitch at times. He’s getting better, and he’s in the right environment to do that.”
No. 3 TCU vs. Kansas
6:30 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday (FSSW), 1 p.m. Sunday (FSSW-Plus)