Is this the best group of starting pitchers TCU has taken to the College World Series?
Jim Schlossnagle looked doubtful.
“Those 2014 and 2015 teams are awful tough to beat,” the Horned Frogs’ 14th-year head coach said. “You had Preston Morrison, Alex Young, Tyler Alexander starting those games.”
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Is this the best roll a group of TCU starting pitchers has been on going into the College World Series?
Schlossnagle paused. You may be on to something.
“These guys are performing at a high level,” he said.
No doubt about that.
Since the end of the regular season, Jared Janczak, Brian Howard, Mitchell Traver and Nick Lodolo are 7-0 in nine starts with a 1.56 ERA, 14 walks and 70 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings. They have been consistently strong during the Frogs’ run in the Big 12 tournament, Fort Worth Regional and Super Regional.
It’s by far their best stretch of the season and a big part of the reason TCU takes an NCAA-tournament ERA of 2.00, fifth best among the 64 teams that began the playoffs, into the start of the College World Series on Sunday.
“We had a good regular season, but we weren’t consistent in our starting pitching,” Schlossnagle said. “We had that 13-game stretch, but we didn’t really pitch consistently through an entire weekend, which is what you have to do to advance.”
Since returning from four weeks off because of a shoulder strain, Janczak (9-0, 1.97) has allowed three runs in 22 1/3 innings.
Howard (11-3, 3.95) has pitched a complete game and struck out 26 in 23 innings, winning the clinching games in the regional and super regional.
Traver (4-1, 3.79) has matched his career high with two seven-inning starts, striking out 17 while walking only three.
Lodolo (5-1, 4.28), the freshman left-hander taken 41st in last year’s major league draft and TCU’s top pitching recruit, has thrown only once since the end of the regular season. But he appeared poised to live up to billing with a strong seven innings in a no-decision against Kansas at the Big 12 tournament.
Janczak and Howard have started each of the last three weekends and lead TCU in innings pitched.
Traver pitched the first two weekends but didn’t get a start in the super regionals because of the Janczak- and Howard-led two-game sweep.
Lodolo has been off since May 24, more than three weeks.
No matter. He and Traver apparently remain sharp.
“We had a sim game Tuesday, and both threw exceptionally well,” pitching coach Kirk Saarloos said. “Anytime you have a guy that turned down quite a bit of money to come to school and has the talent that Nick Lodolo has and hasn’t been used in two weeks, it says a lot for the experience and the success of those three older guys.”
The success of the starting pitchers has come while facing three of the most powerful middle orders in college baseball — Virginia’s Adam Haseley and Pavin Smith, Dallas Baptist’s 97-homer lineup led by Austin Listi and Matt Duce and Missouri State’s 20-plus-homer twins Jake Burger and Jeremy Eierman.
Combined, those six hitters were 6-for-27 with two home runs, three RBIs, five walks and nine strikeouts against TCU pitching. Smith, taken seventh overall in the draft on Monday, struck out twice against Janczak after having struck out only nine times all season.
“When the bright lights come on, Brian Howard comes out,” catcher Evan Skoug said. “Jared is like Brian. When the lights come on, Jared comes out.”
No matter the lineups they face in Omaha, the Frogs’ starting pitchers can look back at a track record that got longer and more credible in the past three weeks.
“Getting Jared back gave us more depth, gave us another pitcher that could pitch deep into games,” Schlossnagle said. “Traver’s pitched the best he has pitched, really, in college the last couple of weeks. We’re sitting here, and we haven’t thrown a first-rounder. When you can match up and pitch deep into games and save the bullpen, that’s what elite baseball and Omaha clubs are made of.”
No. 6 TCU vs. No. 4 Florida
6 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2
College World Series, Omaha, Neb.