Baseball

Baseball Preview: Middle infield driving the defense, Pierce on Austin Todd

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Redshirt freshman Trey Faltine was given a huge responsibility ahead of the 2020 season, his first in Austin. Texas head coach David Pierce named him starting shortstop, a role crucial both on and off the field.

Faltine hit .259 during his freshman season before it was truncated by the pandemic. He returned in 2021 ready to lead his team, and his play has helped Texas plenty during the Longhorns’ 12-5 start ahead of Big 12 play.

“Still the same game I played last year,” Faltine said Thursday. “Trying to keep that and keep in mind other people look up to me. I try to be a leader, and just doing the best I can with my work every day. Leading by example.”

His batting average has dropped slightly in 17 games this season, but he is reaching base and driving the ball more. His on-base percentage is a strong .403, and he is slugging .418. His OBP is bolstered by 15 walks (compared to six in 17 games last year), and his slugging percentage is strengthened by four doubles and two home runs.

As steady as Faltine has been at the plate, his defense has been stellar.

It isn’t only Faltine who has made a splash on defense. True freshman Mitchell Daly has taken over the second base position, a spot that was up for grabs throughout the fall and during pre-season camp. His defense has been constant, and his hitting is beginning to come around.

“Mitch had an opportunity, and he took full advantage of it,” Pierce said Thursday. “Now, you see their coordination together, their confidence together, their non-verbal communication together, knowing where each other are. I tell our pitchers all the time, I’d fill up the zone and let that defense play because they’re good and they’re going to take care of the ball.

“They still have a lot to learn being such young players, but they’re athletic. They’re exciting. They can make the routine play. I think it’s reassuring for a pitcher to know if I make pitches and I get ground balls like we try to do at times, or just stay off the barrel, that you’ve got a great defense behind them.”

Faltine has seen Daly’s progress from the other side of the diamond.

“He’s gotten that confidence that he needed,” Faltine said. “He’s doing everything that y’all see every day. But it also speaks to his work. He comes into practice and makes plays like that all the time. For me, it’s not a surprise. Guys see it every day. He drives the ball, stuff like that. To me it’s not a surprise. He’s finally getting to prove himself and show his tools.”

That type of defense can give confidence to a pitching staff. Ty Madden, the team’s Friday night starter, has the ability to strike out double-digit batters in a game. But when he steps on the mound, he knows he does not need to do that every time in order to win.

“I think having them behind me and having the confidence in them knows I don’t have to have 10-15 strikeouts,” Madden said Thursday. “I can just go out there, and if they put the ball in play, I’ve still got a defense behind me.”

Pierce on Todd

Texas announced Thursday that senior outfielder Austin Todd would miss the remainder of the season due to a shoulder injury.

Pierce spoke about Todd during his media availability.

“It’s so disappointing,” Pierce said. “To me, it’s about our concern for Austin right now. He comes back to our program for his fifth year after he had already graduated. Job potentials, he still wants to play professional baseball. He chose to come back and be a part of this team. His leadership qualities or how he plays, how he shows up to the ballpark every day, he knows what he needs to do to get greedy to play. He’s just fought these injuries for every year we’ve been together. He’s truly like a son to us, to me right now because he’s been with me since day one. We just feel for him, and we’re trying to do everything possible to make him as inclusive as possible.”

He continued: “We’ll see what his future holds. As far as next year, if he has an opportunity to come back in a medical sixth year, if he has a chance to go play professional baseball, or if he’s just able to have a very healthy life and play catch with his kids. It’s all about what’s best for Austin right now. It’s devastating to him. He’s really frustrated, he’s upset, and so is the team. When you’re playing a team sport you have to look at the next guy up. He’s done a great job of helping (Douglas Hodo) and helping (Dalton) Porter and helping a lot of the young guys. He’ll always be a part of this program as far as I’m concerned. I told him if it works out and he wants to come back a sixth year, then that’s what we’ll do.”

BAYLOR PROBABLES

FRIDAY–Texas RHP Ty Madden (2-1, 1.33) vs. Baylor LHP Tyler Thomas (2-0, 1.96)
SATURDAY–Texas RHP Tristan Stevens (1-1, 3.63) vs. Baylor RHP Blake Helton (1-1, 4.41)
SUNDAY–Texas RHP Kolby Kubichek (2-1, 2.50) vs. Baylor RHP Hayden Kettler (1-0, 1.54)

#10 TEXAS (12-5, 0-0) at BAYLOR (12-4, 0-0)
March 19-21, 2021
Where: Baylor Ballpark
Time: Friday at 6:30 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m.; Sunday at 1 p.m.
TV: ESPN+
Radio: 104.9 FM The Horn/1260 AM
Live stats: Baylor.StatBroadcast.com