After losing on a walk-off home run twice in four days, Texas is rightly exploring options at closer.
Yet the search won’t conclude for another week, coach Augie Garrido said.
Garrido said the next closer will be a starter, meaning Kyle Johnston, Connor Mayes or Ty Culbreth will be making his final start this weekend against Tulane before transitioning to closer for the start of Big 12 play against TCU. Whoever departs the rotation will make room for Morgan Cooper, who’s getting promoted from his Tuesday role.
“We’re one week out on that,” Garrido said on Thursday.
Freshmen Nolan Kingham and Chase Shugart will remain in the closer’s role for one more weekend before shuffling off to other areas of the pitching staff. Shugart won the job in preseason and started the year on fire, working 8 1/3 scoreless innings and picking up a save against Stanford. Then his season turned and he surrendered five runs against Cal on March 6, contributing to a seven-run blown lead and a 10-7 extra-innings loss. His slide continued at UCLA last weekend when he gave up three runs before recording an out in Friday’s win.
Culbreth, who prefers to start, is probably not the solution. On Tuesday, he requested to trade his scheduled bullpen session for some late-inning work at Texas A&M, but did not record an out and served up a walk-off bomb to Michael Barash in a 5-4 loss. Assuming Culbreth stays in the rotation, the closer’s role is left to be sorted out by Johnston, who throws heat but sometimes lacks command, and Mayes, who is coming off strong starts against UCLA and Cal. Both of them closed at various points last season.
The bullpen could get a lift this weekend with the possible return of Josh Sawyer, who Garrido said threw a pain-free bullpen session this week.
Meeting again: Tulane designated hitter Jeremy Montalbano started his career at Texas and was a sophomore catcher on the 2014 team that made it to the College World Series.
At Texas, Montalbano, of Katy Seven Lakes, started 45 games behind the plate but was not much of a hitter. Now he’s become an offensive threat, hitting .294 and leading the Green Wave with 16 RBIs. He is primarily the DH, but also has pitched twice, recording 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
“He’s very energetic,” UT center fielder Zane Gurwitz said. “He’ll probably be talking to us. He always means well. He likes to have fun.”
Barrera is content: Though he’s batting .317, Tres Barrera hasn’t had his usual power production. In 60 at-bats, Barrera has three doubles and no home runs.
“I just worry about squaring up the ball and helping my team win, and I’m doing that,” Barrera said. “My power numbers are gonna come. They’ve been there the past two years.”
Barrera, who hit nine homers with eight doubles a year ago, said that his ninth inning fly out at A&M “was the hardest ball I’ve hit all year, but the wind kicked in.”
A&M conflict: Barrera shed light on his post-game confrontation Tuesday night with A&M’s Tyler Ivey, saying he had no issue with Ivey flashing Horns Down but that he took offense to something Ivey said.
“I was fine with him putting the Horns Down. They won the game.” Barrera said. “Once the words come out and they show disrespect, that’s when things change a little bit.”
Barrera wouldn’t say what Ivey said to provoke the standoff, which ended without any physical confrontation.
Shortstop Bret Boswell, who teamed with Ivey at Rockwall-Heath, said the actions were in character for the freshman ace.
“He acts like a freshman, like he is, and that’s kind of how he’s always been,” Boswell said. “One day he’ll learn, hopefully.”