Before the season began, the Longhorns thought they had a starting rotation certain to get them back to Omaha, Nebraska.
Senior pitcher Parker French was coming off of a year with a 2.41 ERA and 62 strikeouts. Sophomore pitcher Josh Sawyer and junior pitcher Chad Hollingsworth were coming off injuries, and sophomore pitcher Kacy Clemens, son of Texas pitching legend Roger Clemens, was looking for his first start on the mound after playing first base last season.
Two months later, as the team heads into its last Big 12 home series against Texas Tech this weekend, the Texas rotation looks far different from the one that started the season.
Clemens is out for at least a month with an elbow injury. Hollingsworth has battled injuries, and Sawyer has been relegated to starting the Tuesday games. Of the four, French is the only player left in Friday’s starting rotation.
“When you start talking injuries, you start making excuses, and you don’t try to find solutions,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “We’re trying to find solutions.”
Garrido’s solution, at least for this weekend, will be to put junior pitcher Ty Culbreth and freshman pitcher Connor Mayes into the starting rotation.
Culbreth started last Saturday at TCU in place of Clemens, and, although he got the loss, he pitched six innings, gave up just three earned runs and struck out six to give the Longhorns a chance in the game.
Mayes came out of the bullpen in Sunday’s series finale, shutting down the Horned Frogs for four innings before giving up two runs in the sixth.
“He came in, grabbed the ball and threw it to the mitt with no fear,” Garrido said of Mayes after Sunday’s game. “That’s the way he pitched in high school, and that’s what made him one of the top pitchers in the entire state.”
But the new arms in the rotation might be too little, too late for the Longhorns.
The sweep Texas received at the hands of TCU all but closed the door on the Longhorns’ hopes of receiving an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns still have a shot at getting into the 64-team field by winning the Big 12 Championship next month, but that would require winning a minimum of four games in five days.
The games won’t get easier this weekend as Texas Tech rolls into town. The Red Raiders sit fourth in the conference — two games above the Longhorns — with a 10–8 Big 12 record and were ranked in Baseball America’s College Top 25 before losing their series to Oklahoma State last weekend.
Texas pitchers will face off against Red Raiders sophomore Stephen Smith, who’s tied for second in the conference with eight home runs, and junior Eric Gutierrez, who has belted 13 doubles this season.
Still, even with all the losses and the changes in the rotation, junior left fielder Ben Johnson said the team is keeping an upbeat attitude.
“Whatever happens, happens with the tournament,” Johnson said. “It’s out of our hands at this point. We just have to go out there and compete every day and try to win as many games as you can.”