Texas' catcher Michael Cantu, left, speaks with pitcher Ty Culbreth during a NCAA college baseball game against Texas Tech at Disch-Falk Field Saturday, May 2, 2015. (Stephen Spillman for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Baseball

Catching a break? Texas avoids Big 12 pitcher of the year in tournament opener

Posted May 24th, 2016

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Adjustments to their respective pitching rotations reflect the contrasting motivations of Texas and Oklahoma State heading into the Big 12 tournament.

Already assured of a berth to the NCAA postseason, Oklahoma State is swinging for the fences this week and withholding ace Thomas Hatch from Wednesday’s opener with the Longhorns. The Cowboys’ plan calls for Hatch — the Big 12 pitcher of the year — to throw later in the tournament against an opponent considered more formidable than seventh-seeded Texas.

Conversely, the Longhorns are going all-out from the beginning, supplanting usual No. 1 starter Morgan Cooper with Ty Culbreth, who manned the Saturday spot throughout the regular season.

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Culbreth, who on Tuesday was the only UT player named to the All-Big 12 first or second-team, will match up against OSU’s No. 3 starter, Trey Cobb (4-7, 3.39).

So Texas catches a break in avoiding the excellent Hatch, who on April 30 held the Longhorns to five hits in a complete game 3-0 shutout in Austin.

“It doesn’t surprise me because we’re the (second) lowest seed, and that’s what you do,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “They’re gonna play a team that’s higher ranked than we are if they win.”

An alternate theory suggests Hatch (6-2, 2.10) is unprepared to make the start after throwing 121 pitches in a win over Kansas last Friday. Had Hatch gotten the nod, he would’ve been operating on just four days rest. Similarly, OSU’s second starter, Elliott Jensen, logged six innings against the Jayhawks in the first game of Friday’s double-header.

So it’ll be Cobb, who started but did not factor into the decision in an 8-4 win over Texas in the regular season.

In that series finale on May 1, the right-hander struck out six batters and hit three in 4 1/3 innings. He did not give up a run, and OSU went on to sweep the series.

With an RPI of 28, Oklahoma State (35-18) is being aggressive with its pitching setup knowing that short of a championship run, it probably won’t be selected to host a NCAA regional. On the other hand, Texas (22-30) can’t look beyond Wednesday, which is why Garrido’s willing to exhaust his best pitching option. To rest up, Culbreth exited after only three innings in last Friday’s loss to Baylor. Texas had already secured its berth into the Big 12 tournament when Kansas lost to Oklahoma State earlier in the day.

“You don’t want to get into the loser’s bracket if you can avoid it,” Garrido said.

In his regular season start against OSU, Culbreth (8-3, 3.39) went 5 2/3 innings and took the loss with five runs surrendered (two earned).

Lone wolf: With the exception of Texas, every Big 12 school placed a player on the All-Big 12 first team. Even Kansas, which finished the conference season in last and didn’t make the tournament, claimed two players among the 17 first-teamers.

Not a good look for Texas.

“I don’t think we got cheated,” Garrido said. “Am I disappointed? Can’t control the choices of the other coaches. That’s the way they saw it. I trust their honesty, I trust their ethics, and I think that’s the way they saw it. That’s what happens when you don’t win enough games.”

Culbreth was the only Longhorn named to the second team. Five of his teammates were named honorable mention — catcher Tres Barrera, infielder Kacy Clemens, outfielder Zane Gurwitz, infielder/outfielder Travis Jones and outfielder Patrick Mathis.

“There were guys who played really well in the Big 12 throughout the whole year, and it’s not up to me who makes what,” Culbreth said.

Perhaps most concerning is UT’s exclusion from the all-freshman team. It’s hard to point to a promising future without promising young talent.

Regular season champion Texas Tech claimed the league’s top coach (Tim Tadlock) and top player (Eric Gutierrez). TCU’s Luken Baker was tabbed freshman of the year, and Kansas State’s Jake Scudder was newcomer of the year.

Walking stick: Last year, the bullpen credited the acquisition of a plastic bucket and a ladybug for reversing the team’s fortunes and winning the Big 12 tournament. This year, they’re quite literally leaning on a walking stick.

Travis Duke used it to get around at Tuesday’s batting practice. Pressed for details, the senior left-hander said he picked it up for $10 at a gas stop.

“A little souvenir,” Duke said.

So there’s hope that the purchase of a walking stick will lead to wins and not, um, walks.

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