For the first time in three years and for the 373rd time overall, the No. 8 Texas Longhorns (19-7) face off against the Texas A&M Aggies (14-9) at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Tuesday in front of a sellout crowd.
Coming off a road series loss to Texas Tech, which moved up to No. 7 in the Division 1 Baseball Rankings, Texas looks for the first regular-season home win against the Aggies since 2017. Texas A&M has won three straight games in the regular season, with Texas notching an 8-3 win in the Austin Regional during the 2018 run to the College World Series. In the postseason, the Horns have a 3-1 advantage since 2014.
A victory in a rivalry game would represent a positive finish to a month during which Texas has gone 11-7 and lost its No. 1 ranking. The offense certainly hasn’t been the problem, with the Longhorns hitting .329 as a team with 44 doubles and 36 home runs while averaging more than eight runs per game.
With the loss of Sunday starter Tanner Witt and some struggles across the staff, the pitching has cooled off from the remarkable start to the season, posting a 4.38 ERA in March. In particular, the bullpen has emerged as a major issue following Witt’s move into the rotation and subsequent injury, as well as the loss of Cole Quintanilla to the MLB Draft.
Right-handed closer Aaron Nixon is still trying to fix the mechanical issues leading to his massive problems with fastball command while appearing to suffer the first crisis of confidence in his college career after allowing the walkoff steal of home on Friday and taking the loss on Saturday with a disastrous appearance that featured only one out recorded, a double allowed, a walk allowed, a hit by pitch, and a wild pitch.
The hit by Texas Tech is the only hit he’s given up in seven March appearances, but that stat has masked the problems that started to emerge when Nixon issued three walks to Texas State in 1.1 innings of work early in the month. All told, Nixon has given up 12 walks in 13.2 innings this season (0.92 walks per inning) and eight walks in his last 6.2 innings (1.3 walks per inning) after allowing only 10 walks in 34.0 innings last season (0.29 walks per inning).
Nixon has already proven himself capable of producing for Texas on the biggest stages — he just needs to get his arm path fixed on his fastball and then regain his confidence on the mound.
Getting the ball to Nixon has been an issue in recent games, too.
Right-hander Travis Sthele gave up two hits and an earned run in one inning against Central Arkansas and was even less effective against Texas Tech, allowing two hits, walking two, and giving up three runs in 1.1 innings during Saturday’s loss. In the eighth inning, after Texas had scored four runs to take an 11-7 lead, Sthele gave up a triple to open the frame, managed to record one out, but also walked two batters to load the bases.
Although left-hander Luke Harrison struck out the first batter he faced, the lanky freshman wasn’t able to escape the jam Sthele created, allowing a bases-clearing double on a 1-2 pitch. Harrison then departed from that game after a week that also saw him walk two batters and allow a run in 0.1 innings of work on Tuesday.
On Friday, right-hander Jared Southard also struggled with his command, issuing a walk and recording one out before departing in favor of Nixon in the eighth inning.
While right-hander Marcus Olivarez still hasn’t allowed an earned run in six appearances and right-hander Zane Morehouse pitched four strong innings to help enable Saturday’s comeback, neither one has thrown high-leverage innings for head coach David Pierce and the main setup roles remain essentially unfilled given last week’s problems.
Pierce may need good innings from some of those pitchers on Tuesday because the starter, right-hander Justin Eckhardt, threw 26 pitches on Saturday after the best start of his career last week against Central Arkansas. Eckhardt struck out seven during his six innings of work last Tuesday, but Pierce would probably be happy with four or five innings against the Aggies.
Under first-year head coach Jim Schlossnagle, who came over from TCU last summer, a rebuilding Texas A&M program is missing its typical midweek starter Khristian Curtis, who suffered an injury in his start last week against Rice and is still undergoing tests. Beyond Curtis and the three regular weekend starters, the Aggies haven’t started any other pitcher this season, putting Schlossnagle in position to potentially use a handful of relievers on Tuesday.
The Aggies enter the game hitting .279 as a team with only 20 home runs and a .426 slugging percentage though they have been better recently, batting .314 with 11 home runs, a .515 slugging percentage, and a .406 on-base percentage over the last seven games. Designated hitter Jack Moss leads the way with .357 batting average, but doesn’t have much power from the three hole, hitting one home run and five doubles this season. Center fielder Logan Britt has more pop, leading the team with five home runs and adding four doubles, but he’s only hitting .235. Left fielder Dylan Rock, a UTSA transfer, is probably the hottest A&M hitter, notching a .450 batting average with five home runs, three doubles, 14 RBI, and 10 runs during his current 10-game hitting streak.
First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.