The Texas pre-conference baseball schedule is set up a little funny. The Horns play two legitimately tough opponents in Rice and Stanford during this stretch, both on the road. The home slate is somewhat less inspiring, though; for the second straight weekend, Texas will play host to an opponent which should, on paper, be pretty overmatched.
Last weekend that resulted in a dominant four-game sweep of Minnesota. This weekend, the 2-6 San Diego Toreros come calling. USD began its 2015 campaign with a 3-1 home series loss to Morehead State, followed by a 2-1 home series loss to Dallas Baptist and a heartbreaking 13-inning "road" loss to San Diego State this week. Tonight's game will thus mark their first contest outside the city of San Diego, as well as their first major-conference opponent.
The main bright spot for USD so far has been starting pitcher PJ Conlon, who is 1-0 in two starts with a 2.45 ERA. He will get the Sunday start opposite either Josh Sawyer of Kacy Clemens for Texas.Tonight, though, the Horns hitters will see junior righty David Hill, sporting an 0-2 record and 6.35 ERA--but keep in mind the small sample size early in the season. Hill starred at the JuCo level last year, going for a 1.67 ERA in 113 innings of work--so he certainly has the ability to shut an opponent down. The Saturday starter for the Toreros will be another junior righty in Gary Cornish, who comes in at 0-0 in two starts with a 4.22 ERA.
Texas will counter with Parker French and his 0.82 ERA tonight with Clemens and Sawyer Saturday and Sunday, not necessarily in that order. Am I concerned about the fact that Chad Hollingsworth is not pitching this weekend for some reason? I have been unable to find any reference to an injury substantial enough to be worried about, so for now I will assume Augie is simply using this as an opportunity to let Sawyer and Clemens compete for the third weekend rotation spot. Twitter says Hollingsworth is just getting the weekend off to aid in his recovery from the lingering arm injury from last summer.
As for the lineup that will face the Texas hurlers, San Diego coach Rich Hill is still tinkering. Only four players have started all eight of the Toreros' games so far, with switch-hitting senior Austin Bailey the clear star to this point. Bailey is hitting .357 and slugging .536 thanks to two triples and a double. He also sports a remarkable .486 on-base percentage, leading the team in walks with seven. He makes pitchers work hard to get him out and will provide a great challenge to the Texas staff.
The other hitters to watch are juniors Jerod Smith (.345/.424/.379) and Kyle Holder (.323/.400/.419), each of whom has also started all eight games. The fourth eight-time starter is freshman Bryson Brigman, who is still hovering below the Mendoza Line but can be forgiven for taking some time to adjust to the college game. Hill obviously likes what he sees in terms of Brigman's potential, and these early-season games are the opportunities to get him acclimated.
Texas comes off a walk-off win against UTPA this week and looks to extend its seven-game win streak. The Longhorns remain undefeated on days that are not Valentine's Day, and hope to keep that stat alive with a sweep as well. They'll do it while continuing to forge an unfamiliar identity, winning with the bat as much or more than the arms. Ben Johnson leads the way so far with an unbelievable line of .447/.469/.596, which he can't possibly keep up as the copetition stiffens but good lord did you see those numbers just now because they were .447/.469/.596. That's an OBP of 1.065. FYI.
But it's not just Johnson getting it done. Texas has six regular starters hitting .300 or better, and is batting .305 and slugging .445 as a team. Most impressive is the team OBP of .402--which means Texas hitters get on base more than 40% of the time they come to the plate. And if you're an optimist, it can be seen as exciting that they're accomplishing all this despite the fact that shortstop CJ Hinojosa hasn't even gotten his bat going yet; assuming he returns to form, this lineup will be the scariest in burnt orange in recent memory.
First pitch tonight is 7:30, tomorrow is 6:30, and Sunday is 1:00. All three contests are on the Longhorn Network. This is your Game One open thread. Hook 'em!