Last week, TCU saw the 1-2 pitching combination it hoped to have when the season began.
Senior right-hander Mitchell Traver pitched five scoreless innings to start the Fort Worth Regional. Junior right-hander Brian Howard then won the regional championship by allowing one run in eight innings.
That’s very close to what the plan looked like for coach Jim Schlossnagle in February — Traver pitching on Friday nights to start a series, Howard on Saturday or Sunday; two experienced veterans keeping things steady while a young staff matured.
It never materialized.
Traver was hurt a week before the season began. And Howard had good games and bad, even skipping a start to regroup.
Mitchell Traver has allowed a run in only one of his four NCAA postseason appearances. He is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 10 hits, 3 runs, 8 walks and 20 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings.
It wasn’t until last week that Traver and Howard hummed on the same weekend. The Horned Frogs could hardly ask for better timing as they head to College Station to start a Super Regional series against Texas A&M on Friday.
“No doubt about it, Traver pitched well,” Schlossnagle said. “I still think he’s not the Traver we saw at the end of last season, but he’s getting there. He’s getting close — certainly hope it shows up this weekend. But Brian’s really taken a great step.”
Traver, from Houston, is the Frogs’ most experienced postseason pitcher at 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in 19 1/3 innings in three starts and a relief appearance. That includes the last four scoreless innings for the win in TCU’s 16-inning victory against the Aggies in Game 3 of a Super Regional in Fort Worth last year.
I’ve seen him grow week by week. He wasn’t here the first half of the season, but he’s here when we need him the most.
TCU catcher Evan Skoug on Mitchell Traver
“Whenever I go, whether it’s Friday, Saturday or Sunday, I’m excited for the opportunity,” Traver said. “I’ll be ready to go. It’s the same thing as any other game — I’m trying to make a good pitch. And we’re just trying to win. We’re playing the game.”
It would be Traver’s sixth start of the year. He went 2 innings in his first start, 3 in his next, then 4 1/3 , 4 and 5. He has 20 strikeouts and six walks in those 18 1/3 innings.
“I’ve seen him grow week by week,” catcher Evan Skoug said. “He wasn’t here the first half of the season, but he’s here when we need him the most. I’m excited to see what he can do this weekend.”
Brian Howard picked up his first NCAA postseason victory in the win against Arizona State. He pitched in one postseason game in 2014 and three in 2015.
Howard, from St. Louis, might have turned a corner last week, Schlossnagle said. He drifted away from his plan in the third inning against Arizona State and gave up a run, but retired the next 17 batters after a mound visit from pitching coach Kirk Saarloos.
It was his best outing of the season.
“I hope he learned a lot from what happened in the third inning,” Schlossnagle said. “That needs to be a kind of tipping point in his career, to be honest with you, and I think it will be.”
Howard can sense a change in his first full season as a starter.
“I guess the one thing that this year has taught me is it’s more about consistency than anything,” he said. “I feel like I learned a lot about consistency. I hope that I can build off this start and the one in the Big 12 tournament and just string a couple together. Because they’re going to start to be some important ones.”
TCU vs. Texas A&M
(best of three)
8 p.m. Friday, ESPN2
8 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
8 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2