Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Texas last year did go wrong.
Ace Sam Stafford was lost for the season before it began. So was leadoff hitter and center fielder Cohl Walla. Parker French, John Curtiss and Taylor Stell also suffered season-ending injuries. Without them, the Longhorns did not reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
“Was it Murphy, the Irish guy, that they named a law after?” head coach Augie Garrido asked. “Murphy’s law? Boy, does that suck. That’s what happened. That was it.”
For the second straight year, Texas has lost a likely member of its rotation before its season opener. Curtiss underwent Tommy John surgery over the offseason and won’t pitch again until 2014. But other than a recent Mark Payton concussion that shouldn’t keep him from missing any games, the Longhorns are relatively healthy.
If they want to bounce back from last year’s 30-22 debacle, they’ll have to stay that way.
That starts with their starting rotation, which will be led by sophomore Parker French. He started his freshman season a year ago as a middle reliever and earned a spot in the weekend rotation before becoming the team’s ace Friday night starting pitcher.
French gave up one run on one hit in four and one-third innings of a 6-4 win over Missouri last May, his first start in the new role, before discovering he had suffered a stress fracture in his right elbow. His season was over.
“I think I had a renewed sense of what baseball meant to me, what kind of work ethic I need to bring,” French said. “I just realized that this game can be taken away from you at any moment. Thankfully, I’ll be out there again. That’s one of my goals this year, to get through the whole year healthy.”
If Texas is going to have a chance at returning to Omaha for the College World Series, that’s a goal that all of French’s teammates will have to meet. Walla, who batted .316 with eight home runs, 40 RBIs and 14 stolen bases as a freshman in 2010, has not been the same since. A knee injury cut his sophomore season short and a torn ACL before his junior year kept him out for all of the 2012 campaign.
Walla will come back this year, but won’t start the season in the outfield. When he does return, it could be as a designated hitter before he makes a full-fledged return as an everyday player.
“He’s not up to form,” Garrido said. “He’s running a little bit, wearing a brace. He’ll be OK. I know anything’s possible, so I know he can [return to his freshman form]. He’s done a good job with the rehab. He’s certainly competing for a job.”
The Longhorns are better than they were last year, but not good enough to overcome another series of season-ending injuries. As long as they stay healthy, they could find themselves in Omaha in a few months.