Pitching staff must fuel Longhorns’ late-season run

Michael Shapiro

The 2016 season hasn’t been pretty for the Longhorns at the plate. Aside from their 21–24 record — along with 9–9 in the Big 12 — Texas ranks seventh in the conference in runs scored, seventh in batting average and eighth in on-base percentage.

But the other side of the ball has been far more encouraging for head coach Augie Garrido’s squad as it heads into the final seven games of the season. Texas’ pitching has hovered near the top of the conference for much of the year, currently sitting at third place in the conference in team ERA, third in walks and fourth in strikeouts.

“You see those young arms come in and do what they’ve been doing, it’s very encouraging for the future of Texas baseball,” associate head coach Skip Johnson said.

During its most recent hot streak, Texas bashed the ball, averaging nine runs per game over a seven-game stretch. The Longhorns collectively caught fire, with various players spraying extra-base hits nearly every time up.

But the well of runs quickly dried over the past weekend, as Texas scored just seven runs in a three-game sweep at the hands of Oklahoma State. The Longhorns reverted back to the offensive struggles that pained them early in the season, whiffing too often and failing to get on base with any consistency.

“We didn’t work the count enough, and it cost us,” Garrido said. “We need to see the ball better and make more consistent contact.”

If the Longhorns lineup can’t be counted on to consistently produce, its pitching staff seems capable of filling the void. Texas boasts a quality weekend rotation, bolstered by Big 12 wins leader Ty Culbreth. The senior left hander boasts a 2.99 ERA and ranks third in the conference in innings pitched and fourth in strikeouts. In a season filled with uncertainty, Culbreth has become Texas’ unquestioned ace.

“[Culbreth] is a real steady guy, he’s the senior,” Johnson said. “He’s got good command of the plate, and he’s smart out there.”

Joining Culbreth in the weekend rotation are a pair of right-handed sophomores, Morgan Cooper and Kyle Johnston. Cooper and Johnston have displayed some inconsistencies in 2016, but matched them with numerous strong performances. Johnston has gone six-plus innings allowing just one run in two of his past four starts, while Cooper’s penchant for punch-outs places him seventh in the Big 12 in strikeouts. 

Along with a bullpen that has settled into its respective roles, Texas’ pitching has become the strongest aspect of its roster. The Longhorns’ lineup has displayed blips of power throughout the year, but with minimal reliability. If Texas is to win the Big 12 Tournament and play significant postseason baseball, it will get there on the back of its pitching staff.