Through both an up-and-down 2019 season and a fall filled with moving parts at both coaching and player positions, one thing has remained constant for the Texas baseball team: pitcher Bryce Elder.
The junior will open the season on the mound for the Longhorns when they travel to Rice on Friday to kick off their 2020 campaign. This comes as no surprise as he started the season opener last year after moving into the starting rotation following a freshman year in the bullpen.
“We signed the kid in late June after his senior year in high school baseball,” pitching coach Sean Allen said. “He comes in here and was solid as a freshman mostly as a bullpen piece. Then, all of a sudden, he just works himself into the Friday night starter role last year and will fill that role again this year. But (his improvement) is because of his mentality.”
For a remodeled team that has many unanswered questions, including an infield completely revamped with two freshmen up the middle, Elder is a strength the team can count on.
After throwing 83 innings last season with a 2.93 ERA, Elder earned All-Big 12 second team starting pitcher honors. He was also named unanimously to the 2020 Preseason All-Big 12 team. Elder has proven that he should be the team’s opening day starter and ace.
This weekend against Rice, the right-hander will have a chance to show he’s taken yet another step. Elder has added to his repertoire enough to handle even the best Rice players, including Owls star and preseason All-American junior shortstop Trei Cruz.
“I’m not going to go away from who I am as a sinker-slider guy because it’s been good so far,” Elder said. “But I’ll throw the changeup a lot more this year, and I’ll throw the curveball a lot more this year. Having a true four pitches and not just three and a half is really going to help.”
The rest of this Texas baseball roster will look new compared to last season, particularly in the updated infield. Junior Zach Zubia will start at first base. Junior Murphy Stehly will start at third base, joined by freshmen Trey Faltine and Brenden Dixon at shortstop and second base.
“I can’t think of the last time the University of Texas had two starters in the middle of the field that are both freshmen,” head coach David Pierce said. “I don’t think we put a limit to leadership on age.”
Against Owls starter junior pitcher Alex DeLeon, the Texas batters will have the opportunity to show they can produce for a lineup that desperately needs a boost after finishing last in the Big 12 in batting average, OPS and home runs last season.
While the 2019 season ended with disappointment after being the only team in the Big 12 to miss the conference tournament, Texas has to move forward into the new season.
“Nobody’s brought it up,” Pierce said of last season. “We flipped the page. … 2019, we’re past that.”
For 2020 to go in a different direction, the Longhorns will need Elder to once again be the lights-out pitcher that he was last year.