- First baseman Kacy Clemens says "hits are falling in for me" now that he's transitioned exclusively to the field.
- Aside from Tres Barrera, all of the power hitters from last year's 30-27 team are gone. But pitching is a strength.
- After a disappointing 2015 season, Augie Garrido said he has "simplified" the offense in hopes of scoring more runs.
Augie Garrido avoids the term “batting practice.”
The Texas baseball coach, who opens his 20th season this weekend against UNLV, prefers “offensive practice” to encompass the finer ways a player can contribute to his team scoring runs. What goes on in the batter’s box is far more complex than just gripping and ripping.
Thus, it’s no surprise Garrido is instructing his team to adopt the offensive philosophy of the Kansas City Royals, who employed a beautiful brand of small ball to win the World Series last year. While the Royals were moving freely on the basepaths and scoring runs last year, the Longhorns were swinging hard, slumping badly, and generally fighting to stay above .500. Texas hit .259 as a team — four points out of last place in the Big 12 — and lost mid-week games to heavyweights UT-Arlington, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Sam Houston State.
“Their offensive plan is what we’ve been putting into play,” first baseman Kacy Clemens said of the Royals. “Being more aggressive, not missing fastballs, not striking out in general. If we can do what they did, we’ll be happy.”
Friday will be the first chance to see this change when UNLV comes to town to start a three-game series. The Rebels, picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West, went 25-31 last year but have had recent success, winning 36 and 37 games the previous two seasons. Per usual, Texas is loaded with talented arms and will hand the ball to sophomore Kyle Johnston. Left-hander Ty Culbreth and Connor Mayes will start games two and three, respectively.
Garrido announced his lineup this week, and aside from cleanup hitter Tres Barrera, it is bereft of power hitters. Gone from last year’s team, which started 8-2 and finished 30-27, are Ben Johnson, C.J Hinojosa, Brooks Marlow, Collin Shaw and Taylor Stell, who combined for 24 of UT’s 41 home runs. Of the 17 returning home runs hit last year, Barrera had nine.
It appears this batting — er, offensive order is conducive to the return of Augie Ball, the bunt, steal and sacrifice method that was shelved for most of the 2015 season before returning in time for Texas to pull off a minor miracle and win the Big 12 tournament. The offensive switch was magnified in the eighth inning of the title game when Garrido ordered Barrera and Marlow to bunt. It all rolled into a five-run inning in a 6-3 win over Oklahoma State.
“We’ve simplified the offense to make it as easy as possible for us to score runs,” Garrido said.
Big 12 tournament MVP Zane Gurwitz (.260) will bat leadoff, followed by left-handers Bret Boswell (.253) and Patrick Mathis (.063). The staff is high on Mathis, a right fielder, despite his striking out seven times in 16 at-bats last year as a freshman.
Following Barrera is Michael Cantu, who started off hot last year before his average dropped 34 points in the final month and leveled off at .249. Then comes the Clemens brothers. Kacy has not been a factor at the plate in his first two years, yet the hope is that now that he’s strictly a position player, he’ll be able to settle in at the plate. There are no plans at this point for Clemens to pitch, and for the first time he has spent all offseason working on his hitting.
“Hits are falling in for me,” Clemens said. “Hopefully, that’ll continue into this season.”
His brother, freshman third baseman Kody Clemens, is a left-hander who has a quick swing and a natural feel at the plate. He was one of the stars in the Feb. 6 alumni game, ripping a double off of the Atlanta Braves’ Andrew McKirahan and later driving in a run with a bases-loaded single.
The final two spots in the order belong to Jake McKenzie, who is keeping second base warm until Joe Baker returns from a minor leg injury, and freshman left fielder Tyler Rand.
Last week in scrimmages, Garrido counted just 29 times his players struck out in 219 at-bats. It was a good start.
“We’re putting the ball in play a lot better, and that will allow us to run the bases more aggressively and allow us to do more hit-and-runs and things like that,” Garrido said.