After swinging hot bats to open the season, Texas is expecting an added boost from the return of one of its top players.
Second baseman Joe Baker, the Longhorns’ second-leading hitter from last year, could be available for the four-game series against Stanford that starts Thursday.
“It looks like it,” UT coach Augie Garrido said on Wednesday.
Baker has nerve damage in his right (throwing) arm, but it’s a leg injury that kept him out of the lineup for the alumni game and last week’s series against UNLV. The weak arm is something he’ll have to deal with all season, but the leg is progressing nicely, Garrido said.
Garrido said that in Tuesday’s intra-squad scrimmage, Baker, who hit .294 in 37 games as a freshman, doubled and “ran fine.”
“If he’s 100 percent he would add another offensive player to an already good lineup,” Garrido said.
If Baker returns, utility man Jake McKenzie could be squeezed out of a spot. McKenzie started the first two games of the UNLV series and went 1 for 9.
Even without Baker, Texas put together a solid weekend at the plate, managing 21 runs and 31 hits.
Kingham to start: Scrapping an earlier announcement, UT announced on Wednesday that freshman pitcher Nolan Kingham will start in place of Josh Sawyer in Thursday’s series opener.
A team spokesperson said Sawyer has a sore arm after throwing two scoreless innings last Friday.
Kingham, from Las Vegas, had been pegged as a late-inning reliever and worked the eighth and ninth innings in Saturday’s 11-2 win. He allowed one hit and struck out one.
Following Kingham, UT’s rotation will remain the same for the weekend — Kyle Johnston (0-0, 2.25) vs. RHP Tristan Beck (1-0, 0.00); Ty Culbreth (1-0, 1.80) vs. LHP Chris Castellanos (1-0, 1.50), and Connor Mayes (0-0, 0.00). vs. RHP Brett Hanewich (1-0, 0.00).
Garrido sounded like Morgan Cooper was not considered for the spot that’s going to Kingham. Instead, the plan is for Cooper, who is working back from Tommy John surgery, to take off this weekend and start Tuesday at Texas State. He’ll be limited to roughly 80 pitches, Garrido said, and will then take off “a significant number of days.”
Cooper, who missed all of last season, worked the seventh and eighth innings in Sunday’s 7-0 win. He uncorked 94 mile-per-hour fastballs to strike out two of the six batters he faced.
Fat lip: Catcher Tres Barrera met with the media and had a fat lip after getting hit by a ricocheting ball in the on-deck circle in Sunday’s fifth inning. Barrera said stitches were not needed.
“I turned at the last second and it skidded my lip and took some skin off my lip,” Barrera said of a foul ball from Patrick Mathis.
Angry, Barrera ripped a RBI single to center on the first pitch he saw.
“I told myself I was gonna swing at the first pitch no matter what,” he said. “Luckily, it was a good pitch to handle.”
Stanford watch: The Cardinal (3-1) took two of three from No. 22 Cal State Fullerton to begin the season before adding another win, 5-2, over UC Davis on Monday.
Overall, Stanford is outscoring opponents 12-7 and opponents are hitting just .169 against the Cardinal with two extra base hits.
Last March, Texas dropped two games at Stanford before rebounding to take the next two and force a series split. It was an uncharacteristic season for the Cardinal, which went 24-32 and finished second-to-last in the Pac 12 at 9-12.
Overall, Stanford leads the series, 34-31-7.