What kept TCU’s Evan Skoug going during a slow time at the plate

TCU veteran Evan Skoug can tell you the scouting report on him — “My bat is what I’m known for, and my defense is kind of secondary.”

He’s working on changing that.

“This year I worked a lot on my defense. I wanted to solidify that,” he said. “It’s definitely something that I needed to do for the team.”

Some of the results showed last weekend against Oklahoma State, when Skoug made two put-outs at home plate, tracked down a wild pitch in time to prevent a run from scoring and threw out a runner attempting to steal second. Each play proved critical in aiding the Horned Frogs’ sweep.

“I don’t know how the game would have ended up if he didn’t throw that guy out,” starting pitcher Brian Howard said after his victory in Game 3, when Skoug threw out the trail runner in a double-steal attempt in the second inning with TCU holding a one-run lead.

“That was the turning point in the game,” Howard said. “It allowed me to focus on the hitter and not have second and third and one out. His defense has just been incredible. He’s worked so hard at it.”

A night earlier, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle called Skoug’s quick rundown of a ball that went way wide of the plate in the sixth inning “the play of the game.” By getting to it quickly, Skoug prevented the go-ahead run from scoring.

It hasn’t been perfect. Skoug has been charged with three throwing errors on pick-off attempts, an uneven start on the defensive project for a preseason All-American and Golden Spikes Award candidate. But an optimist could say it’s a sign of aggressiveness born from a new confidence on defense.

“He’s out there working every single pitch to get that called strike for me or to block a ball for me,” Howard said. “It’s really good to see the improvements he’s made in his time here behind the dish. He was not bad before, but now he’s working himself into that elite category.”

There is another benefit. As he got off to the slowest start of his career hitting, Skoug took solace in his defense.

“When I was not hitting well, that’s what I had,” he said. “My defense gave me something to do, something to enjoy.”

And now the hitting is catching up. Skoug drove in five runs in the Oklahoma State series, including the go-ahead run in the seventh inning in Game 2, and has an RBI in seven consecutive games. He has homered in two of the past five games, giving him four and putting him ahead of his pace each of his first two years.

“I live with Evan; I’ve seen ups and downs in Evan’s career,” right fielder Austen Wade said. “I think he’s handled the last three or four weeks with probably the best poise that I can say of someone in his position, as high-caliber a player as he is, as much attention as he gets from the college baseball world. He’s kind of relaxed a little bit. You’re starting to see the Evan of two years ago, the Evan of last year.”

And TCU knows that scouting report.

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

No. 3 TCU at Kansas State

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