Longhorns rotation helps them dominate early conference competition

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Nathan Thornhill and the rest of the Longhorns’ starting rotation has started to round into form, as they have a combined 1.16 ERA in the last five games while holding batters to a .200 average.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Considering the fact that Texas did not bring back either of its three starting pitchers from last year, the Longhorns’ starting pitchers have done well this season.

They’ve done particularly well in the team’s last five games, four of which have been Texas triumphs. Dillon Peters, Nathan Thornhill, Parker French and Ricky Jacquez — all freshmen, except sophomore Thornhill — have a combined 1.16 ERA, hold batters to a .200 batting average and strike out more than four times as many hitters as they walk.

“They’re coming together,” said Longhorns head coach Augie Garrido of his pitching staff. “There’s been steady improvement. We’ve got young pitchers that have developed as the season goes on, and that’s what we want for the whole team — is to get better from the wins and from the losses.”

The Texas lineup, on the other hand, has not performed as well during that stretch. The Longhorns are batting .234 and have struck out nearly three times as much as they’ve walked. Over a 17-game period beginning with its first win over Texas State in March, Texas scored 7.6 runs per game but have scored less than three times in its last four contests heading into a three-game home series against Kansas beginning Friday night.

“We’ve got to take quality at-bats and build our innings more consistently,” Garrido said. “I’d like to see us get back on top of getting that leadoff hitter on and getting them over, extending rallies, extending rallies with two outs, extending at-bats with two strikes. That’s the type of game we have to play to win big.”

The only loss over this five-game period was last Friday, when the Longhorns spoiled a superb outing by Thornhill, who left the game with 1-0 lead in the seventh inning. Texas ended up falling, 3-1, to Oklahoma State in 11 innings but Thornhill will look to improve to 5-2 against the Jayhawks today.

“I feel like I’m getting more and more comfortable every week,” said Thornhill. “Throwing the fastball early and then coming in with a changeup, that’s kind of what I do.”

The following day, French turned in by far the best outing of his young college career and arguably the best performance by a Texas starting pitcher this year. He did not allow a run in eight innings, extending his streak of consecutive scoreless innings at home to 25.1. He’ll have an opportunity to add to that impressive mark Saturday.

“The comfort of pitching at home has helped,” French said. “The sinker was moving late and being able to mix in the slider and changeup kept them off balance. Starting in around the fifth inning, they just started pounding the ball into the ground. The defense went to work. It was awesome.”

Kansas is in a four-way tie for last place in the Big 12 standings at 3-9, and is the only team in the conference with an overall losing record at 15-23. But these starters — Thornhill, French and Jacquez — will come in handy when Texas takes on the likes of No. 9 Texas A&M next weekend and No. 3 Baylor, who has yet to lose in 15 games against Big 12 opponents.

Printed on Friday, April 20, 2012 as: Rotation torching opponents early in Big 12 play