No. 10 Texas (26-8) has ridden the strong arms of a deep bullpen to the brink of a critical two week stretch when the Big 12 heavyweights visit Disch-Falk Field, starting Friday with league-leading Oklahoma. But are the Horns finally getting the offensive punch they need for a championship run?
Texas has won 12 of 14 since suffering the three-game sweep at Kansas in late March. Since then, coaches have preached patience at the plate while advocating a more aggressive approach along the base paths.
“We’re playing more aggressively on offense,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “The base-running puts runners in scoring position. That affects the pitcher a little bit, and the hitters get better pitches when the pitcher has to worry about the base-runners.”
If this year’s version of Texas baseball advances to the Super Regionals for the first time in four years, it will do it with small-ball. In contrast to the past couple of teams — the 2008 Longhorns swatted 60 home runs while the 2007 club went yard a school-record 69 times — the current herd of Horns have gone small with 40 sacrifice bunts through the first 32 contests. The 2008 Horns, meanwhile, notched 64 sacrifice bunts through 61 games. This year’s Horns have registered 18 homers in 34 games.
“We’ve laid down some good bunts,” Garrido said, “but we’ve done a lot of things, from the various aspects of offense, that trouble a pitcher. You combine that with the fact we’re swinging the bats better. We’re hitting better than .340 during the past five or six games.”
Some have attributed Texas’ offensive surge to the narrower confines of ballparks at Oklahoma State and Nebraska, where the Horns posted a 5-1 record to jump back into the Big 12 race. Garrido has long emphasized the importance managing the “environment” as key to his team’s success. But his program’s run-production during the recent road swings still have much to do with patience at the plate.
“We’re also taking our walks, and that’s a big part of offensive success,” Garrido noted. “The hitting is coming around, but offense is about run-scoring.”
The immediate result is Texas has scored first in 11 of the past 12 ballgames. The Horns have outscored opponents 20-5 in the first inning this season and are 22-2 this year when drawing first blood.
“Everybody we play knows not to let us do that,” Garrido told Inside Texas.
The Horns bring a 9-6 conference mark to their critical weekend series against the No. 10 Sooners (8-4 in Big 12 play). On tap next week are a pair of nationally ranked visitors in Rice (April 21) and Kansas State (April 24-26). But Texas has battled back from the disappointing sweep at Kansas to where it controls its own destiny. What’s more, 14 of Texas’ remaining 17 games are slated for Disch-Falk Field where the Horns are 18-2 on the season.
Longhorn pitchers own a 2.14 ERA in weekend games and have yielded just 47 earned runs in 198.0 innings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sophomore RHP Chance Ruffin is slated to start against Oklahoma First-pitch for 6:00 p.m.