Gil LeBreton

Mitchell Traver’s patience rewards him with TCU’s big start

Mitchell Traver started 14 games last year and finished among the Big 12 leaders with a 1.89 ERA while striking out 77 in 76 innings.
Mitchell Traver started 14 games last year and finished among the Big 12 leaders with a 1.89 ERA while striking out 77 in 76 innings.

If you believe in signs, if you trust that fate steers us down a certain path, you will likely agree that it is perfectly appropriate for right-hander Mitchell Traver to pitch Friday night for the TCU Horned Frogs.

The opponent is yet to be determined. But for TCU, it has already been deemed as the most important baseball game in school history.

And big games call for big pitchers — pitchers whose experience has taught them how to embrace the moment. Pitchers who’ve been to Tommy John hell and back. Pitchers who have waited patiently for their night.

Traver has experienced one of those sublime nights so far. As a redshirt sophomore from Sugar Land last season, Traver came out of the bullpen and pitched the final four scoreless innings of the Frogs’ dramatic Super Regional-clinching victory over Texas A&M.

He started 14 games a year ago, finishing among the Big 12 leaders with a 1.89 ERA while striking out 77 in 76 innings.

The 2016 season was going to be Mitchell Traver’s year. He was going to be the bell cow of coach Jim Schlossnagle’s pitching staff. He was going to be the latest TCU pitcher to be selected high in the MLB Draft.

But when the season started, Traver was on the sidelines again with another injury, this time a muscle strain in his back.

Instead of pitching on Opening Day, Traver didn’t make his first mound appearance until May 8 at Penn State.

His start Friday will be his seventh, a number that has tested Traver’s patience.

A sign?

“It’s exciting,” Traver said. “This is the opportunity we wanted to put ourselves in. We have confidence in whoever we run out there on the mound, so for me, being here as long as I have, through all the training and hard work, I’m just excited to go out there and see if we can punch our ticket.”

Broad and friendly, Traver would make a great baseball coach. Or a teacher, or a preacher. Or a TV anchorman.

Schlossnagle and pitching coach Kirk Saarloos have brought him along slowly since his return, as Traver has tried to stay healthy while regaining his stamina.

His five-inning, two-hit, scoreless start against Oral Roberts in the NCAA Fort Worth Regional looked like the Traver of old.

But was it a sign? Or a tease?

After the elbow surgery and the back strain, the Lazarus of the Frogs’ pitching staff knows that he is long overdue for a public resurrection.

But Friday will not be about Mitchell Traver, the pitcher said.

“We play for each other,” he said. “We know for a fact that we are the absolute most of what we could possibly be. Whether it is mentally or spiritually, we know we’ve done everything we can to put ourselves in position to win.”

Hence, Traver agreed, the swagger that the Frogs have played with in their first two College World Series games.

“This team is in a good spot right now,” Traver said. “We’re just going to try to keep it going.”

He wasn’t supposed to pitch in last season’s Super Regional victory over A&M. But fate steered Traver into the game in the 13th inning.

Inside his cap that night, as many players do, he had scrawled a message.

“John 11,” it read.

The story of Lazarus.

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