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Early-season blowouts are giving No. 1 Texas early looks at new players, pitchers

Texas third baseman Skyler Messinger, a graduate transfer from Kansas, has made an instant impact with the Longhorns. He has three hits in 13 at-bats and tripled in Tuesday's win at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

In some ways, Bob Cole's job has been made easier this season.

Cole is the public address announcer at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. This spring, there are a lot of familiar names on the Texas baseball roster for Cole to pronounce.

Six position players made at least 50 starts last season. The returning pitchers combined for 348⅔ innings. Eric Kennedy has been at Texas since 2019, but even his seniority doesn't stack up to that of fellow outfielder Austin Todd and pitcher Tristan Stevens.

There are some new kids on the block, though. Through the first five games of the season, 13 players have made their Texas debuts.

"We have those types of conversations all the time about being ready and stepping up when your name's called," UT infielder Mitchell Daly said. "I think (the newcomers) have done an awesome job doing that so far."

Skyler Messinger, a third baseman who arrived as a graduate transfer from Kansas, has started three times. He has three hits in 13 at-bats, and he tripled in Tuesday's win at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

SEC transfers Jack O'Dowd (Vanderbilt) and Kimble Schuessler (Texas A&M) have both made brief appearances in three games. Freshmen Ace Whitehead and Gavin Kash also have earned some playing time.

Texas coach David Pierce speaks with Douglas Hodo III at third base during Sunday's win over Rice. The Longhorns' first four wins were blowouts, allowing Pierce to look at several new players and pitchers. "I loved the way our pitchers are approaching and attacking the strike zone," Pierce said. "They're not backing down; they're not pitching off the plate. If you're going to beat them, you're going to have to put the ball in play."

"We've got to try to get them as many at-bats as we can," Kennedy said. "Knock on wood, hopefully someone doesn't get hurt, but if somebody does, we're going to need them to come up and step up and not miss a beat."

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Perhaps more notable than the debuts of Texas' new position players are the fresh faces in the bullpen.

Freshman Luke Harrison has thrown three innings of shutout relief. Joshua Stewart, who was considered a top-200 prospect in the 2021 draft class, got some work in against Rice. Redshirt freshman Lebarron Johnson has struck out three batters and allowed a run over two short outings.

Transfers Daniel Blair (Winthrop), Marcus Olivarez (Lamar) and Cameron Dayton (Midland College) didn't allow any runs in their debuts. Texas coach David Pierce has said that Zane Morehouse's curveball is the "best, absolute nastiest pitch on the team," and the ex-Dyersburg State hurler got to show off that pitch in a recent midweek outing.

Texas' Travis Sthele pitches during Tuesday's 12-0 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Elbow surgery robbed Sthele of his 2021 season, but the redshirt freshman has looked sharp early this season coming out of the bullpen.

"I loved the way our pitchers are approaching and attacking the strike zone," Pierce said. "They're not backing down; they're not pitching off the plate. If you're going to beat them, you're going to have to put the ball in play."

More:Texas pitcher Pete Hansen discusses preseason hype, personal growth and 1983 comparisons

And don't forget about Travis Sthele. The Longhorns certainly haven't. The redshirt freshman missed the 2021 season because of elbow surgery. Now healthy, he answered Pierce's first call to the bullpen this season.

Against Rice last Friday, Sthele faced the minimum number of batters in the seventh and eighth innings before he ran into trouble in the ninth. He had four strikeouts and a walk over two innings Tuesday.

Before the season, Sthele's name was often mentioned by veterans who were asked about an up-and-coming Longhorn to keep an eye on. Staff ace Pete Hansen praised Sthele's work ethic. Outfielder Douglas Hodo III added that "you can just kind of tell when those guys have that 'it factor,' and he has it."

"I've known him since I was 15, and he's been a dog ever since then," sophomore reliever Aaron Nixon said. "He's been a high-powered thrower, awesome change-up. He's going to be someone to watch this year."

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Through its first four games, No. 1 Texas (5-0) bullied Rice and A&M-Corpus Christi by a combined score of 48-3. On Wednesday, UT held off TAMU-CC 5-4.

This weekend, Texas will host Alabama (5-0) for a three-game series. Five of the next six games are against SEC teams. In addition to the Crimson Tide, Texas will meet LSU and Tennessee at next week's Shriners College Classic in Houston.

"Everybody always says the SEC is the best conference, so we're always looking forward to a challenge," Kennedy said. "We're always looking for an opportunity to compete against the best. That's what we're going to be seeing over the next couple weekends."

Alabama at No. 1 Texas

4:30 p.m. Friday, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday, LHN, 104.9

Probable pitching matchups: Friday — Texas LHP Pete Hansen (1-0, 0.00) vs. Alabama RHP Garrett McMillan (0-0, 6.00); Saturday — Texas RHP Tristan Stevens (1-0, 0.00) vs. Alabama LHP Antoine Jean (0-0, 4.50); Sunday — Texas RHP Tanner Witt (1-0, 1.80) vs. Alabama LHP Grayson Hitt (1-0, 0.00)