The only player on the Longhorn roster who makes his own calls on the mound wasn’t even in a pitching group last semester. He also entered Sunday with a 54.00 ERA.
Junior Jake McKenzie led Texas to its 9-3 victory after allowing only one hit Sunday afternoon. Afterward, head coach David Pierce deemed him not only the pitcher, but the player of the game. However, it wasn’t until Pierce asked a question when he first arrived to Austin that he realized McKenzie wanted to be on the mound.
“Actually, I asked just about every one of our players, ‘What is your best position? What do you think you do best?’” Pierce said. “And the first thing Jake told me was pitcher … so we started working him in the bullpen early in the fall.”
The right-hander threw 18 innings with a .50 ERA in his first season on the 40 Acres, but he only saw the mound twice last year. His performance at the plate last season is part of the reason he told the coaches he wanted to try his hand at pitching again.
“I mean, last year I probably hit like .230, so might as well try something different,” McKenzie said. “I just wanted to pitch a game. They didn’t have me in a pitching group initially, and I asked Coach Haig, ‘How do I get in a pitching group?’ So they put me in one, and I got to pitch all fall and it went well.”
McKenzie entered Sunday’s game in a bit of a jam. The junior saw the Longhorns’ 3-0 lead dwindle down to 3-2 right before he was called from the bullpen. He faced runners on first and third base with only one out.
But a double play got McKenzie out of the inning without allowing a run across the plate. And he shut UConn down from there, throwing for a career-high 4.2 innings without allowing a single run on the board.
“He’s the only pitcher that calls his own game because he can think and do the right thing,” Pierce said. “He’s usually one or two pitches ahead of the hitter.”
Although the right-hander put on a show Sunday, his first outing was disastrous. McKenzie went in relief to junior Connor Mayes in a pivotal game four on opening weekend against Rice.
In the 7-1 defeat, he only faced three batters but hit a batter, gave up a hit and allowed two runs while only mustering one out. McKenzie was pulled from the game with a 54.00 ERA.
“I credit the coaches for letting me have another opportunity after that first outing,” McKenzie said. “I talked to my coaches, and they told me I could call my own pitches from here on out, which I’ve been doing all fall. So that helped, because I know what I’m confident with.”
McKenzie proved that he was at his best when he was allowed to call the shots. The junior will have a few days of rest, but he is likely to see the mound again in the Stanford series in Palo Alto this weekend.
However, the Longhorns have business to take care of tonight as they host Lamar before they head to California on Wednesday.
“It’s a team that we can’t come in here and start looking ahead for the Palo Alto trip in thinking about Stanford,” Pierce said. “Tuesdays are big for us and this one is no different.”