TCU pitcher Brandon Finnegan pretended it didn’t bother him.
The former Fort Worth Southwest High School left-hander suffered through an 0-8 spring for the Horned Frogs despite pitching well.
His well-documented lack of run support negated his 3.14 ERA and made him sweat every pitch he made during the Frogs’ disappointing season.
Despite the ugly record, the USA Collegiate National Team, including its manager, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, knew Finnegan’s talent deserved a spot on the roster.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Although he doesn’t lack in self-confidence, Finnegan’s ego still took a bruising by the winless season and admittedly felt self conscious on a team made up of some of the best freshmen and sophomores in the college game, including two TCU teammates, pitchers Preston Morrison and Riley Ferrell.
“Going 0-8 definitely took a toll on my confidence,” Finnegan said. “But when you’re around the best players in the nation you’ve still got to act like you’re one of the best. So I went out there and did the best I could and they scored runs for me when I needed it. It felt great and felt better to help Team USA, too.”
Finnegan went 3-1 and finished with a 1.14 ERA in a team-high 232/3 innings as Schlossnagle’s club went 20-3 during its summer tour, which concluded with a 5-0 sweep of Cuba. Team USA was 13-0 in exhibition games and 7-3 in international play, which included a 2-3 record in a series played in Japan.
Finnegan finished his summer with seven shutout innings against Cuba in a 1-0 win July 20. He struck out seven and walked one on 93 pitches.
“It’s the best I’ve ever seen him pitch,” Schlossnagle said. “He’s certainly used to pitching in close games.”
A pointer from North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon before the Japan series helped turn Finnegan’s average slider into a devastating out pitch.
Rodon, who has the most effective slider in the college game, Schlossnagle said, showed Finnegan how he holds the ball.
“He told me to throw it like a fastball, to throw it as hard as I could,” Finnegan said. “Before my slider was pretty much 78 to 81, maybe. Changing the grip and the way I thew it I was getting it up to 89 mph the whole game.”
Before making the change, Finnegan said, the pitch looked more like a slurve, a bit too loopy to be consistently effective.
“It makes it a lot sharper and a lot harder for guys to hit, obviously,” he said. “It just dives out of the zone real quick. I got to where I could repeat it every game I pitched.”
His TCU teammates also pitched well, especially Ferrell, who allowed just one hit and no runs in 82/3 innings of bullpen work. Ferrell struck out 15 batters and had two saves.
“The fact that all three of the Horned Frog pitchers we had there did maybe the best out of all the pitchers was great to see, to show everybody that TCU is good and we just had an off year,” Finnegan said, still defensive about TCU’s 29-28 season.
“We obviously had one of the best pitching staffs since we had three of our pitchers on the team. Everybody was talking about how good our pitchers are and how they didn’t understand how we didn’t make it [to Omaha]. It was awesome to have Preston and Riley beside me.”
Playing 23 games in a month was a grind, he said, “harder than anything we’d been put through, but it’ll get us ready for pro ball and the future. It was amazing to put on the jersey that said USA across it.”
Although he wasn’t happy about the team’s 2-3 record against Japan (and the host’s version of American food apparently wasn’t up to par), Finnegan was thrilled to see Tokyo and other parts of the country.