TCU

TCU giving pitcher-slugger Baker first Friday night start on mound

TCU freshman Luken Baker gets congratulations after hitting a home run against Rice at the Shriners College Classic on Feb. 27. He picked up the pitching victory, also, in the Horned Frogs’ 10-0 win.
TCU freshman Luken Baker gets congratulations after hitting a home run against Rice at the Shriners College Classic on Feb. 27. He picked up the pitching victory, also, in the Horned Frogs’ 10-0 win. AP

Luken Baker, who has won and homered in each of his two starts as a pitcher, will start Game 1 of a weekend series for the first time when TCU takes on Gonzaga in a three-game series at Lupton Stadium.

The freshman right-hander is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA after two starts. He started the Sunday game of the season-opening series. He started on a Saturday last weekend at a tournament in Houston.

The way he is as a hitter and the way he is as a pitcher is exactly the same. He’s not just a power hitter, he can really hit. ... And as a pitcher, he’s not just up there throwing 94.

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, on Luken Baker

Friday’s start is more evidence of Baker’s increasing importance to the Horned Frogs (7-1), who are still playing without their most experienced pitcher, right-handed veteran Mitchell Traver, who was expected to take on the role of the Friday starter this season.

“I don’t know where we’d be without him, especially from a pitching standpoint with Traver’s injury,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said of Baker.

TCU has a 63-5 scoring edge with four shutouts in a seven-game winning streak.

Baker was expected to be the midweek starter. But he has not wilted on the weekend stage. He has recorded 13 strikeouts and one walk in 12 innings against Loyola Marymount and Rice.

But he has also contributed at the plate. He is tied with third baseman Elliott Barzilli for the team lead with two home runs and nine RBIs. He leads the team in walks with eight and has a .515 on-base percentage.

TCU leads the Big 12 in batting average, ERA and fielding percentage. Gonzaga is third in the nation in doubles with 27, six by Taylor Jones.

“The way he is as a hitter and the way he is as a pitcher is exactly the same,” Schlossnagle said of the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Baker. “He’s not just a power hitter, he can really hit. He uses the whole field. He’s going to adjust with two strikes. He’s not just a big, strong guy up there hacking.

“And as a pitcher, he’s not just up there throwing 94. He can throw his off-speed pitches behind in the count; he throws three pitches for strikes; he can throw all three pitches to both right-handed and left-handed hitters. He’s got a feel for the baseball. It’s very unusual for a guy his size.”

Brian Howard (2-0, 0.69) will start Game 2 on Saturday, and Rex Hill (0-0, 4.32) will start Game 3 on Sunday for TCU. Hill also pitched on Sunday last weekend.

Gonzaga will throw three right-handers: junior Brandon Bailey (1-0, 2.45) on Friday, junior Dustin Vernia (0-2, 2.70) on Saturday and sophomore Eli Morgan (1-0, 5.84) on Sunday. Combined, they have 32 strikeouts and 10 walks in 36 2/3 innings for the Bulldogs (4-4).

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

TCU vs. Gonzaga

6:30 p.m. Friday

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