Gil LeBreton

TCU baseball keeps on winning, but still waiting for more

The TCU Horned Frogs are 15-3, ranked in the top eight of nearly every college baseball poll and have won every weekend series that they have played this season.

Imagine if coach Jim Schlossnagle had his best pitcher, his star center fielder and his starting first baseman all healthy and back on the field.

Schlossnagle isn’t whining, but let’s do it for him.

Mitchell Traver — 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds — was one of the heroes of the Frogs’ Super Regional victory over Texas A&M last season, and the right-hander expected to be the veteran leader of Schlossnagle’s pitching staff.

Traver has yet to pitch this season, however, because of a muscle strain in his back.

Senior center fielder Nolan Brown, who started all 65 games last season, broke a hamate bone and hasn’t been cleared to return to the lineup.

And then there is first baseman Connor Wanhanen, who was batting .306 when he went out last weekend with a strained hamstring.

No, Schlossnagle isn’t complaining. The Frogs began the weekend batting .317 as a team and collected 10 more hits in a 7-1 victory Saturday over West Virginia.

“Our offense is still really good,” Schlossnagle said last week, “but Nolan Brown is a guy who can steal 40 bases in a season, and he’s every bit as good a defender in center as Cody Jones was. That’s the one that we really miss.”

True, in Brown’s absence this TCU outfield hasn’t snagged every fly ball hit into the distant alleys of Lupton Stadium, the way that last year’s Frogs seemed to.

But you won’t see remnants of the bunt-and-wait offenses of seasons past, either. The Frogs are scoring eight runs a game. No opponent’s lead appears too daunting.

On Friday night against the Mountaineers, the Frogs were down 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning but scored seven runs to win 10-6.

The biggest addition is the most conspicuous. Luken Baker, who pitches on Fridays and hits line drives as the DH on nights when he doesn’t, is listed at 6-4 and 255 pounds — a mountain of a freshman. He began the series batting .321 with 17 runs batted in and a .969 OPS.

Sophomore catcher Evan Skoug is reveling in Baker’s presence behind him in the batting order. Skoug is hitting .364 with 11 extra-base hits and a 1.089 OPS.

Third baseman Elliott Barzilli batted .250 last season as a part-time starter. This year, Barzilli is hitting .435 with a team-leading 18 RBIs and an OPS of 1.165.

The Frogs hit only 27 home runs last season. In 2016, they already have 13.

Junior left-hander Rex Hill will take the mound Sunday as TCU attempts to open its Big 12 schedule with a sweep.

But without question, Schlossnagle needs Traver if TCU expects to repeat its back-to-back College World Series performances.

Foul fortunes have shadowed Traver throughout his TCU career. He lost his freshman season because of Tommy John elbow surgery. Another surgical procedure wiped out his redshirt freshman year.

Traver has restarted his throwing program, but Schlossnagle estimates that the big right-hander is still “four weeks away from pitching in a game.”

“It may be even a little bit longer than that,” Schlossnagle said. “It’s just going to depend on how he feels once he starts to amp it up.”

Brown is close to returning in center field, and Wanhanen could be back in the lineup as soon as Thursday.

TCU is good again — World Series good.

But the Frogs could use their injured teammates’ help, even if the shiny record doesn’t show it.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton, @gilebreton

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