Houston Series Preview: Pierce’s return home, injury updates, and more

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Long before Texas’ David Pierce began his baseball coaching career, he played for Wharton Junior College then for Houston in 1984 and 1985.

Pierce hit .273 in 1984 and .345 as part of a 44-17 NCAA Tournament team in 1985. What was the scouting report on the Longhorn skipper?

“I was a one-, two-hole type hitter and played center field,” Pierce said Thursday. “I could run a little bit, and I would like to say I was pretty fearless. I would lay out. I would go for balls. I thought early in my young career that I was Reggie Jackson, and then my senior year I figured out I was Brett Butler.”

Despite returning to his hometown, Pierce downplayed the homecoming factor ahead of No. 19 Texas’ three-game series with the Cougars. The focus shouldn’t be on him, he believes, especially when his most recent stop at Houston was just two seasons in the early 2000s.

“For me, it’s much more about our team going in there and playing a good opponent, testing ourselves and being challenged,” Pierce said. “I’ve been pretty far removed from the university for many years after leaving, going to Rice, and moving around. It’s not that big of a deal anymore, it’s more about our guys going in and competing.”

Injury Updates

When Texas arrives in Houston on Friday, they’ll have the services of outfielder Austin Todd once again. Todd suffered an oblique injury coming out of the opening series in Arlington and has been on the shelf since. That changes this weekend.

“He’s ready to go,” Pierce said. “He could have played last night. He’s hit the last two nights, taking in-and-out, playing catch. He’s ready to go. He’ll be back in there.”

Thus far, the Texas outfield has featured, left-to-right, Eric Kennedy, Mike Antico, and Douglas Hodo. Hodo has started every game in the field in Todd’s place and is 8-for-19 at the plate with a homer and five RBIs.

Todd’s presence, both as a senior leader and as a player, is valuable to Pierce, but Hodo has played to a level that portends to be rewarded with more playing time. Where all four fit into the lineup remains to be seen.

While injury news was positive regarding Todd, the details surrounding lefty Pete Hansen were more neutral than overly negative. Hansen, who throughout the early season was trying to return to his early-2020 form, left Wednesday’s game versus Texas State due to shoulder discomfort in his left throwing shoulder.

Pierce said he believed there was no structural damage but had little additional detail on Thursday.

“He’s having some tightness,” Pierce said. “He felt like he was dead-armed. He had a worried look on his face. That’s what kind of made me nervous. He threw a breaking ball in the dirt and it looked like he threw it about 64 mph. We just went out to visit with him and basically check on him. He put his glove in his face and said ‘coach, my shoulder is dead.’ Of course, we got him out of the game as quick as we could. We’re doing evaluations right now.”

Second Base

Entering the 2021 season with almost the entire 2020 roster, few positions in the field were up for grabs. The outfield was set. First base, catcher, and shortstop were known. The major battles were for second and third base.

Cam Williams’ solid start to the season, with nine RBI in nine games, has solidified “Hammer” as the everyday third baseman. The other infield battle remains somewhat up in the air.

“Second base has been the question mark most of the year,” Pierce said. “There’s been multiple guys. You look at a guy like (Murphy Stehly) that has the ability to give you security in the infield. Then you look at a guy like (Dylan Campbell), who we feel like is really going to be a hitter.”

“They can both play the position but the one thing we’ve continued to notice with (Mitchell Daly) is his movement and his comfort level of just about every type of play.”

On Wednesday, Daly staked his claim for the middle infield spot. He struggled at the plate, going 0-for-4, but he did not let those problems affect how he played in the field. Daly recorded eight assists versus Texas State on Wednesday, several of them key plays when the result of the 10-3 contest was anything but decided.

Daly could see more time in the middle infield this weekend. Of course, Texas would prefer to receive more than an o-fer from a position player, but Pierce wants the Alabama freshman to settle into his role and continue to be a plus defender.

“Obviously, he’s got to understand that he’s just got to do his job,” Pierce said. “We’re not expecting him to go in and hit .400. If he does, that’s a bonus, but he did a nice job of getting the sac bunt down. Now, let’s get the ball in play.”

Kubichek the Sunday Starter

There was little doubt entering this year that Ty Madden would be the No. 1 starter for the Longhorns. But other pitching roles, notably the No. 3 starter, were open competitions ahead of the season.

Kolby Kubichek’s goal entering 2021 was not to fill that Sunday spot. Rather, it was to be the best possible pitcher he could be and let the chips fall where they may. Kubichek performed well in the early portions of the 2020 season, but of course that was all undone by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ahead of this season, Kubichek worked on refining his curveball along with improving control on his fastball. The curve, however, is the pitch that makes his repertoire effective.

It took work, as he felt he didn’t have a feel for the breaking pitch during the 2020 season. Now, in 2021 as the third starter, he feels like it’s one of his strong suits.

“In the fall, me, Coach (Sean) Allen, and Coach Pierce, that was one of the main things I wanted to establish,” Kubichek said Thursday of the pitch. “I wanted to be confident and be able to throw it in any count. I really worked on that, switched up my grip a little bit, and just got away from trying to manipulate stuff and just throw it. Now, I have a lot of confidence in it and feel like I can, not necessarily put it where I want it, but have a good idea of where it’s going to end up.”

Kubichek threw 38 pitches on Tuesday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, allowing one hit and walking one during his 3.0 innings of shutout pitching. His outing was shortened so he could be ready to go in Sunday afternoon’s series finale against the Cougars.

“My goal is not going to change, it’s always going to be to go out there, compete, and try to give my team the best shot to win,” Kubichek said. “Whether that’s in a starting role, out of the ‘pen, or whatever the case may be. I just keep the same mentality. It’s just go compete and give my team a shot to win. That’s all I can do.”