- This will be Shugart's first work as a starting pitcher at Texas; he has 61 career appearances as a reliever.
- The Longhorns, who went 39-24 and to the NCAA regionals last year, open their season this weekend.
- Texas lost six pitchers from 2017 that accounted for nearly half of last season's innings and 40 of the team's 63 starts.
Last year, Chase Shugart had his name called on 29 occasions.
As one of Texas’ top relievers, that usually meant an entrance in the seventh or eighth inning. This spring, however, he’ll be introduced with Texas’ starting lineup.
Shugart is transitioning into a starting pitcher for the Longhorns, who open their season with three home games this weekend against Louisiana-Lafayette. A junior, Shugart has been used only out of the bullpen over his 61 career appearances. He’s expected to be UT’s No. 2 starter behind All-American candidate Nolan Kingham.
“If it doesn’t work out, I’ll be back in the bullpen doing what I do,” Shugart said last month. “Hopefully it works out. I just want to pitch.”
Texas is a year removed from a 39-24 season. En route to an appearance in an NCAA regional hosted by Long Beach State, UT was primarily backed by its defense and pitching. The 3.15 ERA compiled by Texas pitchers ranked ninth nationally and led the Big 12 by over a half-point.
Major-league scouts noticed UT’s success on the mound. Morgan Cooper was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the MLB draft’s second round. Nick Kennedy (Rockies), Kyle Johnston (Nationals) and Tyler Schimpf (Giants) were scooped up in the draft’s first 15 rounds. At UT’s alumni game earlier this month, Jon Malmin (Angels) and Connor Mayes (Royals) were also wearing the colors of their new teams.
Those six pitchers accounted for nearly half of the 560.1 innings thrown by Texas pitchers in 2017. Cooper, Johnson, Kennedy and Mayes earned 40 of the team’s 63 starts.
Texas will start with Shugart sandwiched by Kingham and sophomore Blair Henley in its weekend rotation. Texas coach David Pierce said Shugart got a stamp of approval from Mike Roberts, who coached the 5-10, 180-pound right-hander this past summer. Shugart also impressed Pierce last season during four extended appearances that lasted three innings.
Pierce said his focus was on UT’s upcoming season. He did, though, concede that the promotion could help Shugart’s profession prospects.
“At the end of the day, if Chase can start, he helps Texas a lot,” Pierce said. “It’s something I can give back to him, if he can maintain that. It’s going to help him in professional baseball.”
Entering this season, Shugart has never lasted longer than a 3.2-inning appearance in UT’s 2017 finale against Long Beach State. Since he’ll be working more hours, Shugart said he’ll rely more on his change-up, curveball and slider.
Shugart is still equipped with a fastball that can reach 96 mph. UT catcher Michael McCann said last month that Shugart was throwing the hardest among the pitchers. When speaking to reporters, Shugart said he didn’t expect his mentality on the mound to change.
“I’m in there to get you out, I’m in there to beat you,” Shugart said. “That’s just how I’m going to pitch, that’s how I’m going to approach it. You’re not going to beat me and I’m going to give you everything I can.”
Chad Landry, who coached Shugart at Bridge City High, opined that if you told Shugart “that he had to go play right field, he’d be a pretty good right-fielder. He’s a bulldog, he wants it.” Shugart was Bridge City’s ace his junior and senior years, and Landry said Shugart had a handful of 100-pitch outings. For the most part, though, Bridge City coaches began monitoring him once he hit 90 pitches.
Shugart started three times this summer for the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod League, and he went 5.2 innings in a postseason game. In the opening game of UT’s Orange and White World Series in October, Shugart lasted five innings. He and Bryce Elder were the only pitchers who worked more than one inning in the alumni game.
“In the fall, he did real well,” McCann said. “Real composed on the mound, real quiet with his temper. Attacked hitters, and that was great to see from him. I think he’ll be fine in a starting role.”
Shugart’s promotion leaves a noticeable hole in the UT bullpen. After surrendering three runs in a 6-5 win over Kansas State on March 26, Shugart gave up four earned runs over his final 18 appearances of the year. He pitched three times at the Big 12 tournament and appeared in two of UT’s four games in the NCAA tournament.
Texas now will use pitchers like Josh Sawyer, Bryce Verplank and Andy McGuire in the later innings. Sawyer and McGuire are redshirt juniors who did not play last year. Verplank played at Cuesta College in 2017.
“I have a lot of confidence in those guys,” said closer Beau Ridgeway, fresh off a 12-save season. “They’re older, mature and they’ll get the job done and hopefully the ball to me quickly.”