College Baseball

Right-hander Kadon Simmons bounces back to give UT Arlington boost

UT Arlington returns to Sun Belt action at 5 p.m. Friday in Atlanta with the first of a three-gmae series against Georiga State.
UT Arlington returns to Sun Belt action at 5 p.m. Friday in Atlanta with the first of a three-gmae series against Georiga State. Specail to the Star-Telegram

Based on his opening day dud, one wouldn’t have guessed right-hander Kadon Simmons would soon become UT Arlington’s most consistent pitcher.

Stephen F. Austin knocked the junior transfer all around the yard. They pounded out seven hits and racked up five runs in driving Simmons from the game in the third inning of a 12-1 loss.

However, coach Darin Thomas trusted there was more to Simmons than he got that day. He didn’t hesitate to get back on the mound, starting him three days later in a midweek win over Baylor where Simmons took UTA into to the sixth inning with a 9-2 lead.

“My stuff was flat, and I was a little nervous. My parents tend to think it’s my first start curse, but I fall into the camp of my stuff was just flat,” Simmons said of the start against SFA. “But they hit quite a few ground balls, which can be a hit or an out depending on it being four feet to the left or the right, so you have to take the positives out of an outing like that.”

Since then, Simmons has been lights out.

In the four starts since Baylor, he’s surrendered only two runs in 28  2/3 innings. He’s lowered his ERA to 1.89 and he’s holding opposing batters to a .233 average, walking only one batter in the process.

Simmons commands the strike zone with a four-pitch mix. He locates his fastball on both sides of the plate, and his two-seam fastball has tailing action that makes it tough on lefties.

“He does exactly what you want a pitcher to do,” Thomas said. “He works down in the zone with four good pitches, and he’s able to locate his breaking ball when he needs to.”

His 9.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio (28-to-3) is the best among the top pitchers in the Sun Belt.

It’s a far cry from last year’s slog at North Central Texas College, where he surrendered 84 hits and walked 20 hitters in 62 innings. His ERA ballooned to 5.23 and he didn’t show any peripherals that portended a leap forward was to come.

“I started throwing a little bit harder last year, and it threw off my ability to throw strikes. This year, I’ve been able to get it back where I want it. I’ve been a lot better at finding a good routine and trying to do the same thing every pitch, regardless of the situation,” Simmons said.

But to his credit, he’s been a revelation and he’s getting his first Friday start against Georgia State this weekend. Joel Kuhnel, the normal Friday starter, will be available out of the bullpen after taking last weekend off with arm soreness.

With rain in the forecast, the series opener might get pushed to Saturday, something the Mavericks (14-12, 2-4 Sun Belt) are used to. In both Sun Belt weekends this season, rain has forced a Saturday doubleheader and an early Sunday game.

Despite having played one fewer game, the Panthers (13-12, 2-4) have scored 17 more runs than the Mavericks this season. Their plus-46 run differential is the second-best mark in the Sun Belt behind Texas State.

Jarrett Hood (.432) leads the league with 12 doubles as the Panthers’ cleanup hitter. He protects Joey Roach (.360), who has five home runs and 20 RBIs.

But they couldn’t do any damage last weekend when they were swept at Louisiana-Lafayette, only managing six runs in three games. That was their first road weekend of the season, having played 19 of their first 20 games at home.

The Mavericks, meanwhile, are searching for their first road win since a March 1 win over Stephen F. Austin.

UTA at Georgia State

5 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday