As Rex Hill says, TCU loves Luken Baker.
What team wouldn’t?
The freshman designated hitter hit a grand slam in the first inning, doubled and scored in the fourth inning and added an RBI double in the fifth inning Sunday in the Horned Frogs’ 14-2 victory against West Virginia at Lupton Stadium.
Baker took over the team lead in RBIs with 24, hit .545 in the series and has a team-best 17 walks.
Talk about a pitcher’s best friend.
We love Luken Baker. ... Whenever he comes on the field, we like him even more because he can hit the ball.
TCU pitcher Rex Hill
“We love Luken Baker,” said Hill (2-1), who started and won Sunday after his 2-0 first-inning deficit was erased by Baker’s grand slam. “He’s such a great guy off the field, too. He’s amazing. Whenever he comes on the field, we like him even more because he can hit the ball.”
The No. 7-ranked Horned Frogs (16-3, 3-0 Big 12) already knew that. But what they’ve learned is that Baker can hit the ball to all fields. His home run went to left center. But his doubles went to right field.
“He’s a very unique case in college baseball in that he’s big and strong, but also has a really good concept of the strike zone,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “I said that at the beginning of the year, and I said it down in Houston — he’s a much better hitter than he is a power hitter. And he has power, obviously. And he doesn’t really swing at bad pitches. He’s tough to pitch to.”
He may have the most power on the team, but he’s trying not to do too much.
“I’m just up there focused on executing,” he said. “That’s all the game is, is going up there and execute every pitch. Just win pitches. That’s always my plan going up there.”
The execution of that particular plan — resulting in a 2-1 pitch from West Virginia’s BJ Myers deposited over the left-center-field wall — put TCU ahead 4-2, and the hitters around Baker did their share, too.
Elliott Barzilli homered to lead off the third inning, doubled in a run in the fourth inning and hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.
Michael Landestoy and Cam Warner had RBIs, and the Horned Frogs collected 16 hits to take their team batting average to .325.
Luken Baker’s grand slam was TCU’s first since Jantzen Witte at Jacksonville on March 2, 2013. The last grand slam by a TCU player at Lupton Stadium was Brance Rivera against Dayton on June 2, 2012.
“Our hitters are phenomenal,” Hill said. “It’s so nice as a pitcher, even if you give up some runs, you have so much trust in your team, in your hitters, in your lineup behind you. It’s something else this year. From one to nine, all the way through, there’s no doubt that they can hit the ball.”
For the weekend, TCU outscored West Virginia 31-9 in a series matching two of the Big 12’s winningest teams. The Mountaineers (10-7, 0-3) were 10-4 when they came to Fort Worth on Friday night.
But after leading TCU 6-3 in the eighth inning of the series opener, West Virginia was outscored 28-3 the rest of the weekend.
“We’re certainly capable of scoring runs. We’ve already proven that,” Schlossnagle said. “I think today was a combination of we put together a lot of really good at-bats, the balls we hit hard fell in, and the balls we didn’t fell in, too. It’s not a statement on West Virginia; I think they’re a regional-caliber team; I’m sure that will be proven out over the course of the year.”
.753 Slugging percentage for TCU third baseman Elliott Barzilli, who homered and doubled and drove in three runs Sunday against West Virginia. He leads the team with five home runs.
But maybe it was a statement on TCU. Its lineup can chew through a pitching staff. And its 6-foot-4, 265-pound cleanup hitter can clean up a lot of messes.
“To be honest, I never had a doubt,” Hill said, remembering what he was thinking as Baker walked to the plate with the bases loaded. “Our guys were on base, Luken was up at the plate, I was, ‘He’s going to do something big here.’ I didn’t know it was going to be a home run, but I knew he was going to do something big.”
Big and lovable.