TCU baseball, usually powered by pitching, finds offensive identity

TCU catcher Evan Skoug crosses home plate after hitting one of his two home runs at the Big 12 tournament. Skoug is second on the team with nine homers this season.
TCU catcher Evan Skoug crosses home plate after hitting one of his two home runs at the Big 12 tournament. Skoug is second on the team with nine homers this season. AP

It took until last week, but TCU appears finally comfortable with the way it plays.

“A club that’s going to grind — we just do it in a different way,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said Monday at a watch party for the NCAA bracket show. “The last couple of years, it’s been done with pitching and defense. This year, it’s been done with offense and timely pitching.”

A good example? Sunday’s Big 12 tournament championship game against West Virginia.

The Horned Frogs busted out to an 8-0 lead. But by the sixth inning, they trailed 10-9. Finally, relievers Ryan Burnett and Durbin Feltman put up five consecutive scoreless innings, then Ryan Merrill’s sacrifice fly in the ninth and Luken Baker’s home run in the 10th inning won the game.

“Talking to our assistants on the way to Oklahoma City, I said I didn’t know if this team had an identity yet,” Schlossnagle said. “I think we found our identity this past weekend.”

Schlossnagle has built his TCU teams around pitching and defense. Some have slugged their way to wins, notably the 2010 College World Series squad that hit 101 home runs and slugged .551 in an offensive era.

This year’s team, playing in the second year of a ball that travels farther but with a bat that produces less exit velocity, has 48 home runs and is slugging .466. The shades of 2010 help make up for TCU’s highest ERA (3.31) since it joined the Big 12.

“That’s some of the best baseball we’ve played so far,” second baseman Cam Warner said of the Frogs’ performance at the conference tournament, where they set a record with 72 hits and pounded eight homers, eight doubles and four triples. “I think it’s always been there. It’s just kind of finding that stride.”

TCU does not get many deep starts out of its rotation. Only a third of the 57 starts have gone six innings or more.

Junior right-hander Brian Howard, who has provided a team-high nine starts of six-plus innings, has the only complete game. Only he and Jared Janczak went six innings in the Big 12 tournament.

So a seven-man bullpen stays busy.

“It’s not a traditional way to do it,” Schlossnagle said. “We kind of get our five innings in, and then we match it up the rest of the way.”

That’s where an offense that can strike with the long ball helps.

When first baseman Michael Landestoy homered in the Big 12 title game, it gave every regular in the lineup a home run. Left fielder Josh Watson leads the team with 11, catcher Evan Skoug has nine, Baker has eight, and third baseman Elliott Barzilli and center fielder Dane Steinhagen both have seven.

Seven of the regulars have 10 or more doubles, and six have a triple.

But Schlossnagle keeps thinking about the mound.

“We’re going to have to pitch well in order to advance in the postseason because we’re always going to be facing a great pitcher,” Schlossnagle said. “And you don’t normally beat great pitching with offense. You beat it by matching it with great pitching on the other side of the mound.”

That’s an identity he hopes TCU can remember.

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

Fort Worth Regional

at Lupton Stadium

▪ TCU vs. Oral Roberts,

6:30 p.m. Friday

▪ Arizona St. vs. Gonzaga,

2 p.m. Friday

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