First Pitch: Texas looks to rebound from disappointing season

Evan Berkowitz

Last season was one to forget for the Longhorns.

In his 45th season at the helm, head coach Augie Garrido had his second-worst season ever, as his team sat at the bottom of the Big 12.

The Longhorns managed their third-worst campaign since the creation of the Southwest Conference in 1915.

But this year’s team isn’t worried about 2013. 

“Last year is in the past, like it never happened,” sophomore shortstop C.J. Hinojosa said. “We are here and focused on team 120 — the 120th team at Texas.”

And from the outside, 2014 is shaping up to be an intriguing one. Baseball America ranked Texas No. 18 in its preseason poll; Collegiate Baseball Newspaper at No. 20.

“We’ve worked on teamwork and allowing each other to trust everyone and have everybody’s back,” Hinojosa said. “Everyone wants to be here early and leave late. That’s something that has changed, and it’s going to improve a lot of things.”

The biggest strength of last season’s team — the pitching staff — returns with eight pitchers. The entire weekend rotation from last season’s team, which anchored a Texas staff that finished seventh in the nation with a 2.61 ERA, returns. Juniors Parker French and Dillon Peters and senior Nathan Thornhill are all back for another shot at the College World Series.

“It’s refreshing,” Peters said. “We all know what our role is going to be. We’ve all prepared in the offseason and especially in the fall to contribute to wins this spring. We’re going to get after it the same way we got after it last year and just produce for our team and keep as many runs off the board as we can.”

While the pitching staff shut down opponents last year, the offense struggled to score runs. During league play, the Longhorns batted just .234 — putting them last in the conference — and scored 23 runs fewer than the next worst team in the Big 12.

“It’s all about producing [runs],” All-Big 12 senior Mark Payton said. “It’s going through Coach Garrido’s philosophy of offense, and that’s what we need to do. We’ve got the greatest coach in the world and all the tools we need. We just need to put it into the games this year.”

For Garrido, the mental approach is the biggest change on a team where the weekend rotation and seven offensive starters return.

“We spent all fall attacking what I think was our number one problem from last year, and that is the word entitlement,” Garrido said. “We didn’t take as much time playing catch or taking batting practice as we did focusing on the mental parts of it all.”

Garrido’s main focus was on teamwork.

“They have been tested, and the weaker and more self-centered mentalities are gone,” Garrido said. “Talent is important, but it does not end up winning the game. Teamwork ends up winning the game.”

Garrido doesn’t want to feel the same way as he did last season.

“The standard for Texas Baseball hasn’t been met in the last two years, and it isn’t acceptable,” Garrido said. “And, until those standards are met, it is a substandard performance and we don’t intend to be a part of that.”

So far, it’s working.

“Unscored upon so far,” Garrido said with a chuckle.