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On Sunday, David Pierce announced a move over a year in the making.
Following Kolby Kubichek’s inability to record an out and 7.2 innings of one-run relief from Pete Hansen in an 11-3 win over Texas Tech, Pierce said Hansen would slide into the No. 3 starter role for the No. 6 Texas Longhorns ahead of the final stretch of the regular season.
“We’ve definitely got to go and move Pete into that Sunday role right now,” Pierce said.
The decision to take Kubichek out of the Sunday spot was not based on a single poor performance versus Texas Tech. Hansen, who missed significant portions of his preseason throwing program due to COVID, was utilized on Tuesdays as a way for the freshman All-American to build up his arm strength and stamina.
Over the course of April, Hansen worked deeper and deeper into ball games during his starts. He lasted at least 6.0 innings and threw over 80 pitches in all his April midweek appearances. He started to see some relief action on weekends, and despite rarely eclipsing 90 mph with his fastball, continued to be effective against Big 12 opponents Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
While Hansen surged, Kubichek never offered the level of consistency Pierce desired. Kubichek completed 7.0 innings only once in 2021, and totaled 1.0 innings over his last two starts versus Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Hansen mentioned Sunday there’s a thrill in hearing his name called on the bullpen phone and running in from UFCU Disch-Falk Field’s bullpen. No longer will he be running out of the ‘pen, now he’ll be running out of the dugout to start the top of the first.
“However coach needs me, I’m ready to go and I’m there,” Hansen said.
Prior to the shutdown of the season in 2020, Pierce penciled Hansen into the weekend ahead of the beginning of Big 12 play. He was slated to start a weekend game versus New Mexico and remain in that role ahead of a trip to Oklahoma, but the NCAA paused then ended the 2020 season before the California product had a chance to show what he could do.
More than a year later, Hansen will follow Ty Madden and Tristan Stevens. His first opportunity will be one of the toughest challenges of the season as Texas travels to Fort Worth to face No. 3 TCU. He’ll be riding the momentum of his stellar relief performance against a potent Texas Tech lineup. Hansen allowed seven hits and one earned run during his outing, striking out seven and walking none.
“It was tremendous,” Pierce said. “He’s been coming. We’ve all been watching him get better and better each week and create a little more stamina each week. Today, when we really needed him early, he stepped up.”
Pierce continued: “He’s the essence of pitcher. He goes out and uses both sides of the plate with the fastball, really good with the slider, and enough change ups. That’s the key. When you say readiness, we have to have guys willing and in a good position to step up. He didn’t come into a nice situation, bases loaded and nobody out. That thing could have gotten really ugly. He just did a nice job of being Pete.”
Hansen credited his work in the weight room, his throwing regimen, and other pitching maintenance for his success this season. He told reporters he tries to get “the little things right.” He has two good examples to follow in his rotation mates, Madden and Stevens, and praised their work as processes worth replicating.
“Working with guys like Ty and Tristan, it rubs off on you,” Hansen said. “Their work ethic and how hard they want it, being around that is special. I definitely feel more confident. I trust my stuff, and it’s fun playing right now.”
Pierce didn’t offer concrete plans regarding Kubichek, saying he could be an option on Tuesdays for the Longhorns. A third-year arm, Kubichek also has experience working out of the bullpen.
No matter what Kubichek’s role becomes, Hansen’s is now clear. Ahead of the stretch run of May, Texas hopes he offers a level of consistency on Sunday only seen on Fridays and Saturdays thus far.
Cover photo courtesy of Texas Baseball