When Texas head coach Augie Garrido announced he would be unveiling a new, unorthodox batting lineup before regional play began, a few Longhorns weren’t so sure what their coach was thinking.
A few players voiced their confusion at the change, wondering what the thinking was behind it.
The change? Garrido decided to swap Tant Shepherd and Brandon Loy in the lineup, putting Shepherd at leadoff and Loy in the three-hole.
At the time, it seemed like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. Shepherd, the senior first baseman, did not seem like the ideal leadoff hitter the team needed. It wasn’t because Shepherd doesn’t have the ideal table-setter speed. He attests to having some of the best wheels on the team. It was just that you usually want your power hitters to have opportunities to hit with guys on base.
“There’s a huge difference in your mindset for your first at-bat of the game,” Shepherd said.
And Loy, the junior shortstop who possesses an ideal skill set for a leadoff hitter — quick, smart and a contact hitter with excellent bat control — would now be asked to hit with runners in scoring position.
After a sample of two weeks of play, the move seems to be paying off.
In the Austin Regional, Shepherd and Loy combined to go 12-for-32 from the plate (for an average of .375) and teamed up to draw in six runs and walk 10 times. Shepherd was named the Most Outstanding Player of the regional and even got to flash some of his power, hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning in Texas’ 5-3 win over Princeton.
Results were just as good this past weekend in the Super Regionals, a three-game series against Arizona State. The duo hit .360 in three games and Loy stood out with a fantastic 3-for-4, 2 RBI outing in the decisive game three and a 4-2 Texas win.
The move has worked out because it allows Shepherd, who experimented at leadoff last year, and Loy to play to their strengths.
“I’m definitely faster than Brandon,” Shepherd said. “I’m the fastest infielder on the team.”
In terms of pitches seen, the move makes sense. Leadoff hitters traditionally see mostly fastballs — Shepherd’s specialty. Guys in the three-hole get fed more off-speed pitches — not Shepherd’s specialty.
“I didn’t really change my approach, the pitching is different,” Loy said. “Tant’s a fastball guy, and he gets those at leadoff. I see more breaking balls at the three-hole so I just have to be a little bit more patient and have to expect something off-speed.”
Loy’s scouting report during his freshman and sophomore years might have read something like this: intelligent, an excellent fielder, great bunter, no power.
None of that has changed. In his career, Loy has hit two homers. A fifth-round pick by the Detroit Tigers, he was drafted mostly for his glove and his intangibles, as well as a batting average that continues to rise. It is a bit odd that one of the more power-deprived players on the team bats third, but this Texas team does not have a typical offense.
“We’re not a team to hit a lot of home runs,” said third baseman Erich Weiss. “We play really smart baseball though, we like to get on base.”
The ability for Shepherd and Loy to move around in the lineup has made the top of the order strong heading into Omaha. Mark Payton, a freshman, has solidified himself as the two-hole hitter and resident bunter in Augie-ball. Weiss, also a freshman and carrying the team’s best average, bats fourth.
“It’s a little different. We’ve talked about doing more hit-and-runs with Brandon at the three-hole,” Weiss said. “I think it’s great.”
Both Payton and Weiss would agree that, in hindsight, the 1-3 swap looks brilliant, with Weiss calling it “clutch” and Payton going a step farther.
“It’s one of the smartest moves I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” he said. “Who knows what would have happened if coach Garrido didn’t make that change.”
This article appears in print as: "Shepard, Loy benefit from change in lineup, continue to produce runs"