Three Longhorns have been feeling under the weather ahead of this week’s NCAA Austin regional. On Thursday, Texas baseball coach David Pierce said pitcher Nolan Kingham, designated hitter Zach Zubia and third baseman Ryan Reynolds have been battling undisclosed illnesses.
An unperturbed Pierce diagnosed all three as being on “the upswing.” Kingham has been sick for three days; Pierce said the right-hander needs to throw a bullpen session on Friday but should be available for Texas’ game on Saturday. Kingham, who’s been UT’s Friday starter this season, is 7-3 with a 4.26 ERA.
Kingham’s illness made Pierce’s job easier when it came to picking a starting pitcher for Friday’s opener against Texas Southern. UT will start junior right-hander Chase Shugart, who is 4-3 with a 4.73 ERA. Pierce also went with Shugart because of the way he works with base-runners and the possibility of his “rubber arm” recovering in time to possibly pitch later in the regional.
Shugart was a bright spot for Texas in last year’s postseason, although he was used out of the bullpen. Friday will be the 14th start of the converted reliever’s career.
“Being able to start game one of the regional is every kid’s dream,” Shugart said. “From here on out, every start that I have is going to be bigger than the last. Being able to channel my emotions, but not (getting) emotional is key for me.”
Heat check: Indiana, the only non-Texas team in the Austin regional, has played one game south of its state since March 4. The Hoosiers, however, aren’t worried about adapting to the Austin heat. Temperatures are expected to reach triple digits at least twice this weekend.
Indiana coach Chris Lemonis noted it was also summertime back home and the team practices on a turf field. (Friday’s projected high in Bloomington is 85 degrees). At last week’s Big Ten tournament in Omaha, Indiana played three games that featured a first-pitch temperature in the 80s.
Outfielder Logan Sowers said the Hoosiers have been drinking a lot of water since their arrival in Austin. Pitcher Jonathan Stiever conceded that some of his teammates will be feeling the heat more than he will.
“As a pitcher I don’t have to be out there but one day, getting prepared for that one day,” Stiever said. “As a position player each day you have to go out there and get your body ready for every single game you play.”
McCann’s new role: When Texas opened last year’s postseason with a 3-2 win over UCLA, the Longhorns did so with Michael McCann at catcher. One year later, McCann has found a different way to contribute during his junior season.
Due to the emergence of DJ Petrinsky, McCann has been relegated to backup duties this spring. He’s made only 13 starts and his 49 at-bats are far fewer than the 112 he recorded in 2017.
Pierce, however, said he thinks McCann has improved despite his lack of playing time. Earlier this week, Pierce referred to the Round Rock native as the “one of the best No. 2 catchers in the country.” On Thursday he lauded McCann’s leadership and work with Petrinsky.
In addition to backing up Petrinsky, Pierce said McCann would replace Zubia if the designated hitter is unable to play. If he happens to appear behind the plate on Friday, McCann will be kept busy by a Texas Southern team that ranks sixth nationally with 114 steals. Petrinsky has thrown out 23 of the 54 runners who have attempted to swipe a base against him.