After a couple tough outings last month, it seemed like Corey Knebel couldn’t handle pitching more than an inning or two at a time.
But after throwing five great innings in the series finale win over Texas A&M Sunday afternoon, Knebel put those doubts to rest. Knebel allowed the Aggies to take a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning before holding them scoreless throughout the rest of the game. Three hits and a tremendous slide by Jonathan Walsh in the ninth inning gave Texas a thrilling 2-1 victory in its last scheduled meeting against Texas A&M as Knebel picked up his third win of the season.
If Knebel had it his way, however, he would have pitched all nine innings of that contest.
“He wanted to start to begin with,” said Longhorns head coach Augie Garrido. “[Pitching coach] Skip [Johnson] and I were not comfortable with that because we didn’t know how to close it. All the guys that we had confidence in had thrown a lot.”
Knebel, after throwing 77 pitches Sunday, is not likely to take the mound today when No. 25 Texas (25-16, 11-6) takes on Prairie View A&M (22-20, 13-7) Tuesday evening at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
He and the Longhorns coaches were not always on the same page. The sophomore closer, a week after throwing more than 100 pitches while suffering a loss in Lubbock to Texas Tech, was saddled with another defeat against Oklahoma State April 13. Knebel pitched three innings but surrendered a pair of runs in the 11th inning as Texas fell to the Cowboys, 3-1. Knebel, who started in high school, was visibly frustrated after the tough loss.
“I just wish they’d kind of make up their mind if I’m going to be a reliever or closer,” Knebel said.
When Knebel faced the Red Raiders April 6, he didn’t get much help from the Texas defense. Thanks to an error by senior shortstop Jordan Etier, two of the three runs Texas Tech scored in the decisive 14th inning were unearned. The four batters Knebel walked in that 7-6 defeat were as many as he walked in his first 15 appearances of the year — only one of which went longer than three innings — when he went 2-0 with seven saves while posting a 1.33 ERA. In his two rough outings against OSU and Texas Tech, Knebel was 0-2 with a 2.79 ERA.
“We’ve pitched Corey too many innings,” Garrido admitted at the time. “It’s our fault. It’s my fault.”
When the first batter Knebel faced against Texas A&M Sunday lined a ball off his chest and the next three reached base, one of which scored, it seemed like the Longhorns were stretching him too long again.
But after Knebel bounced back and held the Aggies scoreless for the final four frames, he made the move pay off. Knebel, who has expressed his desire to be a starter on multiple occasions, does not expect to start on the mound anytime soon.
“Maybe next year,” Knebel speculated. “I know we’ve got some good talent coming in, some good freshmen. Our freshmen this year are doing great and I’m sure we’ll have some good starters.”
Since his struggles against the Cowboys and Red Raiders, Knebel is 1-0 with two saves in five appearances. He’s pitched 11 innings over that span, allowing just five hits and one run, good for a 0.82 ERA as batters have hit just .143 off him, struck out 13 times and walked only four times.
If Knebel pitches like that down the stretch, Texas will be hard to beat, which is good considering a series against Big 12top dog Baylor and postseason play is quickly approaching.
Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as:Knebel lights out as Horns' closer