With only three weeks left in the regular season, the Texas pitching staff comfortably sits at the top of the Big 12 with an ERA of 2.85.
This is a fresh feat for Texas. Just a year ago, the Longhorns landed in the middle of the spectrum, finishing fifth in the conference with an ERA of 4.08.
Although Texas’ performance on the mound has arguably been one of the most improved facets of this year’s team, volunteer coach Phil Haig — who specializes in coaching the pitching staff — said there aren’t any secrets behind the recent success.
“As far as the pitchers go, I don’t have the magic touch or anything that you could put your thumb on,” Haig said. “I think it’s (about) the guys just understanding us, but really, them having a plan going into everyday and (realizing) what they need to work on and what they need to improve on.”
Haig may not have any aces up his sleeve, but he’s played an integral role in catalyzing the development of aces on the mound this season. The 28-year-old joined Texas during the off-season as a member of the new coaching staff alongside head coach David Pierce.
Although it’s his first season in a burnt orange uniform, Haig is no stranger to coaching under Pierce’s regime. After finishing his collegiate pitching career at Florida International University — where he was named an All-Sun Belt second-team selection — Haig began his coaching career when Pierce held the reins at Sam Houston State in 2012 and has been a helpful hand ever since.
“I’ve just watched him evolve with me every year, where I used to do a lot of the day-to-day (routines) and he would follow me around,” Pierce said. “And now, I follow him around. That’s just a tribute to him paying attention and being a baseball rat. He’s been incredible for our pitching staff. He’s got a great baseball IQ, but he also has a good relationship with pitchers.”
Haig’s relationship with the Texas pitching staff is exemplified by the way he approaches his role in coaching. As a former pitcher, Haig has personally experienced a pitcher’s mentality and reflects that in his rapport with the Longhorn pitching staff as a result.
“Everything is about them,” Haig said. “It’s not about, ‘Hey, here’s what I want you to do’ — it’s what’s going to work best for you, what feels best for you. I think a lot of it is the communication that I have and that they have with me and with coach Pierce on what’s that best situation for him.”
Haig brings strategy to the table in the way he coaches. During his pitching days, Haig said he had to rely on using accurate command and the strategic sequencing of his variety of pitches since he didn’t have a strong fastball in his arsenal.
“To be successful, I had to command four pitches and kind of will my way to a lot of wins,” Haig said. “We always want our guys to develop a change-up. We call it the ‘equalizer’ — it slows the bat down; it speeds your fastball up… (We’re) really going into the game plan of not just throwing, but understanding how to pitch.”
Redshirt junior pitcher Morgan Cooper — who leads Longhorn starting pitchers in both ERA (1.61) and number of strikeouts (75) — attributes his improved effectiveness on the mound to Haig’s philosophy on the importance of executing secondary pitches.
“I think the big thing is getting more comfortable with those off-speed pitches,” Cooper said. “I’m just getting more comfortable with adding the curveball and the slider, and I think it’s good at keeping (batters) off-balance.”
Haig’s pitching staff will have an opportunity to grow even more as a squad when the Longhorns head to Sugar Land, Texas, to face Louisiana Lafayette tonight at 6:30 p.m.