Baseball

Jake McKenzie, Texas’ ‘ultimate utility guy,’ plays all nine positions as Longhorns rout UT-RGV

Posted April 17th, 2018

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On Tuesday, Texas senior Jake McKenzie brought five gloves with him to UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

The gloves all served a different purpose for McKenzie. One was used for pitching and another was for starts at first base. He had a glove to wear in the outfield. Another mitt was for the other infield positions. He even found his catcher’s mitt, which he hadn’t really used since high school.

McKenzie used each of those gloves as Texas played him at all nine positions in a 13-2 win over UT-Rio Grande Valley. McKenzie is believed to be the first Longhorn to play all nine positions in a single game. Last year, Andrew Romine of the Detroit Tigers became only the fifth major leaguer to pull off the feat.

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“It’s obviously a pretty humbling experience that (Texas coach David Pierce) would give me that honor to be able to play all nine in one game,” McKenzie said. “He’s putting himself out on a limb doing that, maybe jeopardizing a Tuesday game, which we obviously don’t want to lose. It’s a huge honor.”

Read more: Having played almost every position, Texas’ Jake McKenzie finds a possible home at first base

The only senior among the Longhorns, McKenzie had already played almost every position during his time on the 40 Acres. Pierce said he began thinking about a nine-position game this past fall. The second-year coach picked the UT-RGV contest on the schedule since it was a non-conference game on UT’s home turf.

Pierce talked to McKenzie about the possibility of playing all nine positions when the Longhorns returned from this past weekend’s trip to Oklahoma. The plan was confirmed the next day, but the team wasn’t notified until Tuesday. Pierce said he didn’t promote the positional bingo since he wanted it to be “viewed very similar to a no-hitter and you watch it progress and you watch it develop.”

“Tonight was not any disrespect to Rio Grande Valley and it definitely was not any disrespect to baseball. It was a tribute to our true utility guy,” Pierce said. “It was exciting to watch and (I’m) really excited that we pulled it off.”

Texas pitcher Jake McKenzie (51) throws a pitch against UT-RGV in Austin on April 17, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

McKenzie joked that his teammates initially thought the line-up card was a mistake since he was listed as the starting catcher. Here is a position-by-position recap of his evening:

Catcher: McKenzie went through warm-ups as a shortstop but was given the start at catcher, the one position he had never played at Texas. McKenzie told reporters earlier this season that he had played catcher at Dallas’ W.T. White, so “I’m familiar with the position.”

McKenzie caught redshirt freshman Tristan Stevens, who was making his first start after Tommy John surgery. McKenzie successfully caught the six of the 12 pitches that weren’t hit or fouled off. He also caught UT-RGV’s Coleman Grubbs in a rundown after he backed DJ Petrinsky on a throw the first baseman couldn’t scoop.

First base: The defensive-minded McKenzie has been UT’s primary first baseman this year, and he returned to the position for the second inning. His biggest highlight came when he cut down a runner at home on a bases-loaded double play that he also finished.

Second base: Texas started McKenzie at second base in 18 of its final 19 games in 2016. On Tuesday, he caught a fly ball and turned a double play in an inning at the position.

Third base: McKenzie landed at third base, a position he had manned nine times before, in the fourth frame. For the first time on Tuesday, he did not factor in any defensive decisions.

Shortstop: In early March, McKenzie coaxed Pierce into letting him play an inning at shortstop during a 16-3 blowout of Northwestern. That was McKenzie’s first-ever showing at shortstop and he made another one-inning appearance on Tuesday.

Outfield: Texas held a 13-1 lead after five innings, so McKenzie’s return to the outfield was abbreviated with a run rule impending. McKenzie stopped at each spot in the outfield in the sixth inning, and he remained in right field for two batters in the final frame. McKenzie had last played in the outfield during the 2016 season.

Pitcher: After batting second in the bottom of the sixth inning, McKenzie quickly warmed up in the bullpen beyond right field in between innings and remained in the outfield. With one out and a runner on, Pierce made a pitching change that drew a loud cheer from a crowd that included McKenzie’s parents and grandparents. In the 30th relief outing of his career, McKenzie walked two batters and recorded two outs.

McKenzie said the evening was more tiring than he expected, so pitching was the toughest task. His inning behind the plate, however, would ensure “my knees and hips will be a little sore tomorrow.” As for the plays that stood out, McKenzie went with the two double plays.

After the game, junior Kody Clemens called McKenzie an “ultimate utility guy.” On one night in April, McKenzie was able to showcase that versatility in a game he couldn’t imagine when he arrived at Texas as a walk-on.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” said McKenzie, a petroleum engineering major. “I didn’t know if I’d be playing still my senior year. There was no telling what was going to happen, but it’s pretty cool to be at this spot now.”

Texas infielder David Hamilton (1) is met by teammates after hitting a home run against UT-RGV in Austin on April 17, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Around the bases: In the second inning, David Hamilton’s two-run home run and Clemens’ grand slam were the bookends of a seven-run session. Hamilton and Clemens both drove in six runs. … Stevens allowed two hits and hit two batters over two shutout innings. He threw 23 pitches in his Longhorn debut. … Texas will start freshman Kamron Fields when it meets Texas Southern on Wednesday at Sugar Land’s Constellation Field. … UT designated hitter Zach Zubia, the Big 12’s reigning newcomer of the week, extended his on-base streak to 38 games.

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