Texas? Connor Mayes pitches against California during a NCAA college baseball game at Disch-Falk Field, Sunday, March 6, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Baseball

Baseball notebook: Amid struggles, Texas finds itself in thick of Big 12 race

Three games with Kansas stands in way of potential showdown at Texas Tech

Posted April 14th, 2016

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The last time Texas baseball had a record this bad, it was March 1998 — Augie Garrido’s second season — and his Longhorns dropped five in a row to fall to 9-15-1.

For those who aren’t mathematically inclined, that’s six games under .500, which is actually one rung of sadness worse than these current Longhorns, who are 14-19 heading into their weekend series against Kansas.

There is, however, a key difference between those two Texas teams and their respective struggles. Per Big 12 standards, this year’s club isn’t all that bad and sits alone in third place. The ’98 squad finished eighth, back when the Big 12 had a dozen teams.

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It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision a scenario in which Texas takes care of business this weekend against the pitching-deficient Jayhawks and their 5.38 ERA to set up a showdown next weekend at conference-leading Texas Tech.

As it stands, UT (5-4  in the Big 12) sits one game out of second place and will be looking to make up ground on TCU (6-3), which host Oklahoma. Texas Tech (11-1) takes a break from conference play and will instead host San Diego State.

So to recap, Texas may be struggling, but so too are the majority of its peers in the Big 12, whose accumulation of losses have opened the door for the Longhorns to ascend the standings and salvage their season.

To bring context to UT’s woes, its next loss will be No. 20, a total that was never reached by Garrido’s teams in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Including this weekend, this year’s team has 19 regular-season contests left. And still on UT’s schedule are league series against KU, at Tech, Oklahoma State (4-5), at West Virginia (4-4) and Baylor (4-5).

“If we win those games, we really put ourselves in a much better position to either win the championship outright or to move into the tournament with a higher seed,” Garrido said.

Keep in mind that Texas (RPI: 120) has a get-out-of-jail-free card if it can win the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City and land an automatic berth to the postseason. Given the sickly state of the conference, that scenario can’t be ruled out.

Weekend schedule change: Due to a stormy forecast, Sunday’s series finale has been moved; in its place, Texas and Kansas will play a doubleheader on Friday. The first game will begin at 4 p.m., followed by the second game 45 minutes after the conclusion of game one.

Saturday’s game is unchanged; the first pitch is set for 4:30 p.m.

For Texas, Morgan Cooper will throw game one and usual Sunday starter Kyle Johnston will move to the second game. Ty Culbreth will remain in the Saturday slot.

Kansas counters with LHP Ben Krauth (2-4, 2.29), LHP Blake Weiman (1-3, 3.69) and RHP Jackson Goddard (2-2, 4.50).

Field of 64: Projecting the NCAA tournament field this week, Baseball America extended bids to six teams from Texas — Texas Tech, Rice, TCU, Houston, Lamar and Texas A&M. In that scenario, Tech, TCU and A&M all would host regional sites. The Big 12 would have just three tournament teams — Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State — which is the same number given to the American, Big West and Conference USA, and six fewer than the SEC.

Mayes returns to starting: Tuesday was not an aberration, and Connor Mayes is returning to starter following his failed experiment as closer, Garrido said. Starting for the first time since he moved to closer three weeks earlier, Mayes worked 2 1/3 innings and did not get the decision in the 3-2 loss to Houston at Constellation Field in Sugar Land.

“He doesn’t need the added pressure that goes along with being a closer,” Garrido said. “He needs to get as comfortable as he possibly can in a role he’s most familiar with and that would be starting games.”

Garrido didn’t say it, but filling Mayes’ role will probably be Chase Shugart, who earned the save in last Friday’s win at Kansas State. Shugart began the year at closer, but relinquished the role after several blow-ups.

Baker progressing: On Wednesday, Joe Baker was expected to participate in practice for the first time since sustaining a stress fracture March 19. Garrido did not rule out Baker, whose .314 batting average leads the team, from playing this weekend.

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