- Texas is in danger of getting swept in a four-game series at home for the first time in school history.
- The Longhorns are redefining scuffling at the plate. Through three losses, they are hitting only .181 as a team.
- Cal, which returned its entire weekend rotation and seven position players, has been impressive and overwhelming in the series with 29 hits, one error and three dominant starting pitching performances.
There’s precious little new to say about this Texas baseball team, whose sluggish start to the season can best be defined by what happened after Saturday’s game.
Augie Garrido kept his team behind closed doors for the better part of an hour, and it wasn’t to discuss wild spring-break plans on a Florida beach.
No, just 11 games into the 2016 season, the 5-6 Longhorns are in the danger zone, and Garrido wanted to advise them just how unacceptable that record is and told them so in a 50-minute therapy session. They dropped a 6-0 game and lost for the third straight day to an overpowering, 10th-ranked Cal team that has pitched so well that I only jokingly asked Bears coach David Esquer whom he’s starting on Sunday — Sandy Koufax?
It won’t be Koufax, but it will be a lefty — Matt Ladrech. He doesn’t throw nearly as hard as Koufax did, mixing up his pitches with a ton of movement on them even if they rarely break 85 mph on the radar gun. Oh, and Ladrech won seven games last season and was a freshman All-American.
But when don’t these Longhorns have their work cut out for them?
Truth be told, they’re not a very good team.
In fact, the way they’re playing now, they’re a below-average team. Consider that Texas hasn’t held the lead in a single inning in the first three losses to Cal, and now stands on the precipice of becoming the first Longhorn team in history to get swept in four games. Even though they rarely play four-game series, it’d still be a first.
Esquer sure isn’t counting chickens. Or wins.
“I think the atmosphere and playing Texas puts you on edge,” said the Cal coach, whose 8-3 team returns its entire rotation and seven position players and was picked third in the Pac-12. “We look at it like we’re going to the Austin Regional. You’ve got to learn how to play on the road.”
Texas is trying to learn how to play at home. Or anywhere. After Sunday’s finale, the Longhorns will host Sam Houston State before venturing out to play UCLA, the Pac-12’s second-best team. Oh, boy.
While the Texas offense looks downright feeble and has hit .181 as a team against Cal, its defense hasn’t been anything to write home about. A somewhat bungled play in left field by utility infielder Jake McKenzie on the first play of the game turned into a triple and led to two Cal runs, which in this season can be an insurmountable deficit for Texas.
The Longhorns managed just a season-low three hits against Cal’s terrific Ryan Mason, whom Esquer calls “the best competitor I’ve ever coached.” They didn’t come close to roughing up the 6-foot-6 senior right-hander, whose change-up wreaked havoc with the Texas lineup.
“My bread and butter is the change-up,” Mason said, “and I had it the whole game. It was a big pitch for me, and I think they were probably looking for something harder.”
Other than clutch second baseman Joe Baker, by far the positional MVP of the Longhorns, there is no meat of the order. No, Texas has gone completely vegetarian.
Asked if he saw many quality at-bats by his players, Garrido said bluntly, “No.” He then joked, “Were you testing me for lying?”
Nope. But these recurring performances are going to test his patience.
Until injured outfielders Patrick Mathis (hamstring) and Tyler Rand (broken hand) return to the lineup in a couple of weeks possibly, Garrido and hitting coach Tommy Nicholson will have to make do with what they have. Besides Baker’s five hits in the three games, no one’s making any noise, and that includes veterans Bret Boswell (1-for-12), Tres Barrera (2-for-10) and Kody Clemens (0-for-10).
So what do you do, Augie? Look to an already-short bench and go with Travis Jones and Kaleb Denny? Extra BP? Schedule lighter? His answers pretty much have to come from his regular lineup, which you would assume would bust out in a big way at some point. That said, Texas has scored just eight runs in its six losses.
“Besides prayer,” he said, “you try to stay positive with the process.”
The process isn’t working lately. Without base runners, it’s virtually impossible to manufacture runs in Garrido’s small-ball style. There’s no one to sacrifice up. The team has just 10 stolen bases in 11 games, and five of those came in one game, four from Baker.
Esquer recognizes that Texas is dealing with a short stick. Literally.
“They’re trying to find themselves,” he said. “They have two big injuries, which changes the complexion of their club. Mathis is a No. 3 hitter who can provide power, and Rand’s an important part of that. I think they’ll bring their best A-game tomorrow. We can’t get satisfied.”
Garrido has no such worries, not with Big 12 play looming in three weeks. One other possible solution occurred to him.
“Why don’t we just get better?” he said. “Now there’s a thought.”