TCU baseball piling up wins behind shuffled lineups

Evan Skoug has been the regular cleanup hitter in a TCU lineup that has seen 11 combinations in 13 games.
Evan Skoug has been the regular cleanup hitter in a TCU lineup that has seen 11 combinations in 13 games. Special to the Star-Telegram

A month into the season, the TCU baseball team has positioned itself strongly for the start of Big 12 play, even if that means the Horned Frogs are still figuring out their offense.

TCU, 11-2 and ranked second in the USA Today Coaches Poll, hosts Baylor (6-9) this weekend at Lupton Stadium, with first pitch Friday scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Right-hander Mitchell Traver is expected to start Friday for the Frogs, who are coming off of a 4-1 road trip to Los Angeles that included wins over No. 9 UCLA and No. 5 Vanderbilt. Traver (2-0, 0.83 ERA) is one of two TCU starters with an ERA under 1.00 — Preston Morrison being the other — and as a whole, the Frogs have an ERA of 1.67.

Now, the question moving forward — or until something is set for good, which might not happen — will be how TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle approaches his ever-shuffling lineup. The Frogs’ batting order has featured 11 combinations in 13 games.

“We’re definitely still developing as an offense,” Schlossnagle said.

At the top, center fielder Cody Jones has led off every time, with either Keaton Jones or Connor Wanhanen batting behind him. Evan Skoug has been the regular cleanup hitter, usually one spot after Derek Odell. But after Odell tweaked his back last week, five-hole hitter Garrett Crain moved to third, as the mid-to-bottom of the order continued to rotate.

Keaton Jones has been penciled in at sixth, seventh and eighth, and so has Nolan Brown. Dane Steinhagen has batted ninth and as high as fifth. Elliott Barzilli has hit fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. Zack Plunkett, a freshman catcher, has hit ninth, while Jeremie Fagnan has batted eighth and ninth.

The different orders have stemmed from two reasons.

First, of the 11 players who have started for TCU, six are newcomers and a seventh, Fagnan, missed more than half the season last year becuase of injury. Junior college transfers Steinhagen (.333) and Brown (.318) are leading the Frogs in average, but with a small sample size, Schlossnagle likes that pair deeper in the order.

“Sometimes, in my eyes, guys have success because of where they sit in the lineup,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into it, and I’m a big believer in having depth and balance in your lineup.”

To Schlossnagle, balance also means alternating sides of the plate. Cody Jones, Crain and Barzilli are switch hitters, Keaton Jones and Plunkett are righties and Odell, Brown, Fagnan, Skoug and Wanhanen are lefties.

“The opposing pitcher, he can’t get a necessarily great rhythm against a particular lineup,” Schlossnagle said. “We like to mix and match things and have guys that can run throughout the order.”

But as the new pieces have been fitted into the lineup, TCU’s core of returning starters — Keaton Jones, Cody Jones, Odell and Crain — and the expectedly strong pitching staff have been steadying factors.

“The identity of this team is just going to be experience,” Schlossnagle said. “I’d like to think somebody’s going to step to the forefront and be an explosive offensive player, but in the league we play in and the schedule we play, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. We have a veteran club for the most part that never panics.”

Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @RyanOsborneFWST

TCU (11-2) vs. Baylor (6-9)

Where: Lupton Stadium

Friday, 6:30 p.m.: TCU RHP Mitchell Traver (2-0, 0.83) vs. TBA

Saturday, 2 p.m.: TBA

Sunday, 1 p.m.: TBA

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