Junior Nathan Thornhill began last season as Texas' ace but may or may not be in the Longhorns' rotation when their season starts on Feb. 15. He was 4-5 with a 3.87 ERA in 2012. (Daily Texan file photo)
The Longhorns will rely on a few returning pitchers along with a multitude of new faces to try to erase the unacceptable finish to 2012, in which the Longhorns earned a collective 3.43 ERA, fifth-best in the conference.
Sophomore Parker French has been tapped as the Friday starter and will lead a healthy Texas pitching staff into 2013. As a freshman in 2012, French made nine starts while appearing in 21 games. He posted a 6-2 record and two saves with a season ERA of 2.84, third-best on the team behind current junior Corey Knebel and former Longhorn Hoby Milner.
Thanks to several unfortunate and untimely injuries, including one to the projected ace Sam Stafford, along with the dismissal of freshman Ricky Jacquez, French found himself as the No. 1 starter. However, French sustained an elbow injury against Missouri, ending his season. This year, he is back to 100 percent. His experience on the mound from 2012 will help him lead a young pitching staff.
“Everything is looking really well,” French said. “We have a great mentality, we throw to the mitt, let our defense work. We are not going to beat ourselves, you are going to see a really steady pitching staff.”
Although French has been given the nod by head coach Augie Garrido and pitching coach Skip Johnson to start on Fridays, the rest of the starting rotation is still unknown. The list of possibilities is endless.
Sophomore John Curtiss is listed as out for the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery this past fall. In 2012, Curtiss posted a 3.50 ERA with a 2-3 record in 28 appearances. He started a few games on the mound but spent most of his time in relief.
Junior Nathan Thornhill is looking to fill the role of one of four main middle relievers this season, despite a few starts in 2012. After Stafford was ruled out for the season, Thornhill got the chance to start until French took over the Friday spot. He went 4-5 as a starter in 11 games last season with a 3.87 season ERA. Although nothing is concrete yet, Thornhill is expected to pitch from the bullpen as a middle reliever.
Sophomore Dillon Peters also has a chance as a starting pitcher. Last season, Peters went 4.1 and had a 3.18 ERA season. Peters was primarily seen on Tuesday nights and racked up 43 strikeouts.
After a brief stint in the starting rotation in 2012, Knebel, a junior right-hander from Georgetown, is back to doing what he does best. When Texas opens up its season, Knebel will act as closer for the Longhorns.
“The starter is obviously a valuable person, but you can’t win the game,” Garrido said. “The games are going to be close … and you need the pitcher to throw a strike. You’ve got to have the right personality and Corey has that.”
Thanks to the mounting number of injuries, Knebel started three games late in the season. He posted a 2.08 ERA, the lowest on the team. Despite this, Knebel has already been named as the team’s closer, leaving open three spots in the starting rotation.
Hollingsworth is the most anticipated of the freshmen. As a starter for Robinson High School, Hollingsworth posted a 0.50 ERA and compiled a 13-2 record with 139 strikeouts. He also has a fastball of more than 90 miles per hour.
“It is still too early to tell,” Garrido said. “We have many guys that could step up over the next two weeks.”
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Before the first pitch in 2012, the Longhorns were looking to ace Sam Stafford to lead the Texas pitching rotation. But a shoulder injury ended Stafford’s season before it started.
Parker French, then a freshman, was battling for playing time but, thanks to an alarming number of injuries and shortcomings, he found himself on the mound as the go-to guy for the Longhorns on Friday nights by midseason. He enters this year as the team’s ace.
“I’m trying not to think about it, trying to take away all the expectations,” French said of starting. “Coach [Augie] Garrido always says expectations never lead to good things.”
The 2012 Big 12 Freshman of the Year was named as the Friday night starter for the Longhorns and will lead the young and inexperienced pitching staff to start off the 2013 season. Garrido, the head coach, expressed confidence in the sophomore right-hander but failed to name any of the other potential starters.
“It is a great honor coming from somebody like Coach Garrido that he trusts me enough to give me that responsibility,” French said.
During the offseason with veterans like Stafford and Hoby Milner gone to the pros, French was able to get himself both mentally and physically prepared to step into the role of a starter.
“Last year was just a whirlwind,” French said. “I’ve had a little bit more time to prepare myself, compose myself. Get my mindset ready to go.”
In addition to tweaking the grip of his change-up, his go-to pitch, French has been working on his slider, hoping to feature it a bit more once the season gets started. He has also been working both sides of the plate with his fastball over the fall.
“There weren’t any huge major changes, just fine-tuning stuff so I’ll be ready to go,” French said.
As a starter, French posted a 6-2 record with two saves and a season ERA of 2.84. In total, he started nine games with 21 total appearances. In Big 12 conference play, he saw action in eight games, starting seven, and posted a 4-1 record and 2.54 ERA.
However, his season was cut short last year like so many of his teammates. French sustained a stress fracture to his elbow while pitching at Missouri. He was taken out in the fifth inning of the 6-4 win. Although an MRI indicated that no surgery would be needed, French was ruled out for the rest of 2012 in order to heal.
“[I’m] 100 percent ready to go. No problems, my arm feels really strong,” French said at the beginning of spring practices last week. “That’s one of my goals, to get through this whole year healthy, just keep my body in good shape, putting in hours in the weight room just to be able to take the pounding and grinding of a long season.”
French did not see action during the fall for the Longhorns in matches against Sam Houston State and Texas State and has yet to face a true opponent since his injury last season. In the meantime, French has been throwing against the Texas hitting contingent, preparing himself for Sacramento State in mid-February as well as the alumni game Saturday.
“We have a lot of tough outs in our lineup. It’s not a cakewalk,” French said of facing his fellow Longhorns. “You got to go out there and compete, you got to make pitches cause they hit mistakes and they hit them hard.”
French has also taken his role as the Friday starter one step past his normal pitching duties.
“I look at it as more of a leadership role,” he said. “It is my job to go out there and show the guys how we are going to compete as a staff and set the tone for the whole weekend ... and when I am done throwing, just to get behind my teammates and support them from the dugout.”
Nathan Thornhill has moved around the rotation while at Texas. But he is willing to go werever he is needed in the lineup. His flexibility gives the Longhorns a reliable option in the pitching rotation.
A day after his 21st birthday, Nathan Thornhill is the one helping pitching coach Skip Johnson unload a circular orange tarp from a golf car onto the Disch-Falk Field mound after Thursday’s practice.
It’s Thornhill’s arms that are full of sticky, clay-colored spots — not the arms of any of Texas’ 10 freshmen, five of them pitchers.
“He just grabbed me,” the junior right-hander said. “It’s whatever. I don’t care.”
When the team lost staff ace Sam Stafford last season after having shoulder surgery, it was Thornhill that stepped in as the Longhorns’ Friday starting pitcher. By season’s end, he was a middle reliever, giving way to freshman Parker French, who took over as the team’s No. 1 starter.
“There were a lot of ups and downs,” Thornhill said. “Last year toward the end of the year, I got moved. The coaches felt like that was best for the team, and I performed wherever they needed me to. My freshman year I was a reliever, also. That’s the character of this team.”
It’s time for Thornhill to return to the Longhorns’ rotation.
His numbers won’t blow you away. He went 4-5 with a 3.87 ERA last season. Texas went 5-6 in his 11 starts.
But when you dig a little deeper, you find out Thornhill was much better than those numbers indicate. The Longhorns scored 12 runs in the six games they lost when Thornhill started, scoring two or less in all but one of them.
Four of the starting pitchers Texas faced when Thornhill started were among the first 22 selections in this year’s MLB Draft: Stanford’s Mark Appel (No. 8), Oklahoma State’s Andrew Heaney (No. 9), Texas A&M’s Michael Wacha (No. 19) and Duke’s Marcus Stroman (No. 22). In those four starts, Thornhill went 1-3 with a 2.38 ERA.
“It’s going to be a clean slate for everyone,” Thornhill said. “There’s a lot of things I need to get more consistent on.
I need to be able to throw any of my pitches at any time. I’ve got to get better. I’m not going to worry about what I did last year or what I’ve earned.”
Thornhill doesn’t have to be — and very well may not deserve to be — the team’s ace like he was for two months last season. French returned, now recovered from an elbow injury that caused him to miss the final two weeks of last season. The Dripping Springs product threw 33 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings at one point last season and could prove to be the Longhorns’ best pitcher.
“It is way too early to tell,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “The end result comes as a result of a lot of experiences that we haven’t had, a lot of different environments that we haven’t been in yet ... Our pitching staff is going to depend on the recruited players making major contributions. Who’s going to do that? I honestly don’t know.”
What we do know is that sophomore right-hander John Curtiss won’t be one of those guys. After a promising freshman campaign, Curtiss underwent Tommy John surgery last month, leaving Texas with a gaping hole in its rotation.
“It’s sad to see John go down, because he’s a great kid and he works his butt off,” Thornhill said. “Our trainer has us doing more band work to get our arms in better shape to withstand a whole season. John’s injury seems like kind of a freak thing. Parker’s injury was definitely a freak thing. But we’re just doing more to keep our arms in shape and prevent something like that from happening again.”
Curtiss went 2-3 with a 3.50 ERA last season, coming out of the bullpen for 24 of his 28 appearances, the second most on the team behind only Hoby Milner, who is currently in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. Like Thornhill, Curtiss started last season in the Longhorns’ rotation before serving primarily as a reliever.
The Longhorns are no strangers to such offseason injuries. Stafford, along with outfielder Cohl Walla, who tore his ACL last February, were both lost for the season before it began. This time around, though, the Longhorns seem better equipped to overcome such a loss.
“John’s [injury] happened at a time where we had time to replace that slot,” Garrido said. “Sam’s happened unexpectedly at a crucial time where we just had to scratch him with no replacement
Dillon Peters, who went 4-1 with a 3.18 ERA last season, tied Thornhill with a team high of 11 starts as a freshman and has a chance to crack the three-man weekend rotation. As does junior Corey Knebel, who tied a school record with 19 saves as a freshman but expressed his desire to start as a sophomore.
With a deeper staff, Knebel could better serve as the team’s full-time closer again. Texas should score more than 4.8 runs per game this upcoming season, giving the quirky flamethrower more save opportunities than he had as a sophomore.
As for the Longhorns’ bullpen, that’s completely up for grabs.
“Some players play better in a competitive environment, and some players practice better,” Garrido said. “So until we start competing for real and for playing time, we won’t know that part of the equation.
Without that as part of the recipe, we can’t really bake the cake.”
That cake will be a lot sweeter if Thornhill is part of the recipe that is the Longhorns’ rotation. He’s earned it.
Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Thornhill deserves to be in rotation
You have been drafted by the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers.
You have, in the same season, started inconsequential Tuesday games and the postseason opening -- and in that time period have fluctuated from the most inconsistent starter to the staff's best.
You are Sam Stafford, if you haven't figured it out by now.
It has been a wild ride for Stafford, who was drafted by the Yankees in the second round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Concerns over a slight tear in Stafford's left shoulder cooled New York's interest, and Stafford returned for his senior campaign, but lost it to shoulder surgery in February. Despite missing a year, Stafford was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 13th round of this years draft.
So, what's the talented left-hander up to now? Well, thanks to that shoulder injury, he's just waiting until next month.
"I should start my throwing program at the beginning of August," Stafford said via text this week. "I'll start slow with it, and see how my shoulder responds."
Stafford, one of four Longhorns drafted, doesn't expect to be "game ready" until Spring Training in February.
But until then, let's recap -- blurb by blurb, quote by quote -- Stafford's last 16 months.
Feb. 19, 2011: In his first action of his junior season, Stafford yields four runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched against Maryland.
March 6, 2011: Earns a win with 5 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven, against Stanford.
March 23, 2011: After giving way to Hoby Milner in the weekend rotation on March 15, Stafford is given the weekday pitching spot -- charged with stopping Houston Baptist (at the time, 1-16). It's not primetime, but Stafford approaches it as such.
"We have to make sure we're focused [on weekday series]," Stafford told The Daily Texan the day before the game. "I'm not going to look at Houston Baptist any differently than I would another team."
April 5, 2011: Improved to 4-0 with seven innings of no-hit ball, with seven strikeouts, against Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
April 15, 2011: Texas' middle-relief is struggling, so head coach Augie Garrido moves Milner to the bullpen and names Stafford the Sunday starter. Again, same mental approach.
"The dugout and the environment will be a little more intense during the weekend games, but I have to have the same approach," Stafford said on the day Garrido announced the news.*
*Of all my interviews with Stafford, this remains my favorite: in the Texas training room, holding my voice recorder up to Stafford's mouth as he spins on the stationary bike.
Let's skip ahead to June 2, 2011, when Garrido announces Stafford will start the postseason opener against Princeton in the Austin Regional. At this point, Stafford has five wins with a 1.70 ERA. But, evidenced by his 37 walks in 63 innings, there are some command issues.
"He's had trouble being consistent from inning to inning, pitch to pitch, but he's brought most of that under control now," Garrido says at the time.
It doesn't hurt that Stafford has experience facing something-to-prove teams, as he did most Tuesdays.
"Princeton is going to come in with a chip on its shoulder," Stafford said.
June 3, 2011: Stafford tosses seven innings, giving up two hits and one run, as Texas beats Princeton 5-3.
June 6, 2011: With the season on the brink, Stafford takes the ball against Kent State in the Austin Regional Championship. The Longhorns used six pitchers in the game -- including Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green in relief scenarios -- but it was Stafford who set the tone, going 3 2/3 innings and striking out five. Texas wins, 5-0.
June 7, 2011: One day later, the New York Yankees take Stafford No. 88 overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Stafford is definitely ready for the jump, and that's apparent to all in his same-day availability.
"Who wouldn't want to be drafted by the Yankees?" Stafford said. "To go from the University of Texas to New York is awesome. I couldn't imagine myself going to a better ballclub. I've always loved the watch them play."
June 13, 2011: With a trip to Omaha on the line, Stafford pitches four innings against Arizona State in the Super Regional Championship, giving up two runs, all off a home run in the first inning.
June 20, 2011: In a win-or-go-home situation in the College World Series, Stafford enters the game against North Carolina in the sixth inning, with his team trailing, 2-0. He goes three innings, giving up run. Texas loses, 3-0. Stafford's last ever pitch as a Longhorn? A swinging strike.
August 15, 2011: Shockingly, MLB's deadline to sign draft picks passes without Stafford inking with the Yankees. Whispers of "shoulder tear" are prevalent.
September 29, 2011: The Longhorns begin fall practice, and 'ole No. 19 looks ready to fill the role as staff ace.
"At first there were mixed emotions about coming back," Stafford said. "I thought I was about to start my professional career...but it's a business. I keep saying everything happens for a reason, though, and I'm excited to begin this year."
February 13, 2012: A crushing blow: Texas announces Stafford will have season-ending shoulder surgery a week before the opener. Continued tightness had led Stafford to get an MRI, which told him his left shoulder -- the one the Yankees were so worried about -- had not fully healed.
May 24, 2012: The Longhorns lose to Kansas, 4-2, in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, and are not invited to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
June 5, 2012: Despite being out of baseball a full year, Stafford is selected in the 13th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers. No. 426 isn't quite No. 88, but there's no way Stafford is passing it up. Stafford signs two days later.
"I'm extremely excited," he told MLB.com. "In my opinion, as a pitcher, you can't have a better boss than Nolan Ryan. He's the best one to do it. It'll be a lot of fun. I'm a Texas guy, so I'm extremely excited to be staying with a Texas team."
Four Longhorns were drafted in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, and they have all signed with their new professional teams.
Hoby Milner, Jonathan Walsh and Sam Stafford -- who was drafted in the second round last year by the Yankees, failed to sign because of shoulder problems then missed his would-be senior season because of said problems -- each decided to forgo their last college season. Austin Dicharry, whose collegiate career was marred by injuries, was rather lucky to be drafted by the Nationals in the 24th round.
Milner, drafted in the sixth round by the Phillies, was 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA in one short season with Williamsport in the New York-Pennsylvania League. Milner, who projects as a reliever, struck out seven and walked two in 5 2/3 innings pitched. He's since progressed to Class-A Lakewood, where he yielded four earned in one start -- resulting in an ERA of 12.00.
The Los Angeles Angels nabbed Walsh in the 11th round, and while it wasn't easy to pass up his final season, the outfielder knew he had to take the money while he could.
"I love Texas, but it was time for me to go, with how the draft works," Walsh said via text.
Walsh saw teammates Cole Green and Kevin Lusson turn down professional offers after their junior seasons, only to see their draft slot drop a year later. Green turned down a $300,000 signing bonus from the Detroit Tigers in 2010. He was picked five rounds later in 2011, a big drop-off in money. Lusson went undrafted this past June.
Through 13 games with the Orem Owlz in short-season rookie ball, Walsh is hitting .244 with two homers. In 50 games with the Longhorns as a junior, Walsh hit six home runs.
"I started out hot, but had a tough last week," Walsh said. "But I'm loving [not having to hit at Disch-Falk Field] for sure."
Stafford hasn't recorded any Minor League stats, as he's still rehabbing from season-ending shoulder surgery. It's a pleasant surprise that he was drafted in the 13th round by the Rangers, despite missing a full season and having a shoulder complication previously red-flagged so much by the Yankees that they couldn't agree to terms.
If Stafford can get healthy and then pitch to his capabilities, it wouldn't surprise anybody within the Texas program one bit if he becomes a top-three starter. He's left-handed, which is a plus, and he has such dynamic stuff -- which at times was better than Taylor Jungmann's in 2011.
Dicharry, a senior, actually improved his draft stock between this year and last. The Phillies took a flier on Dicharry in the 41st round in '11, as he pitched just one inning because of nagging shoulder injury. He made some money this season with a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings pitched.
In three relief appearances with the Nationals rookie squad in the Gulf Coast League, Dicharry has allowed one earned run on two hits in five innings pitched, with five strikeouts.
The Longhorns just finished up the Austin Regional, beating Kent State 5-0 in the elimination game to advance to the Super Regional, which will be held in Austin. Arizona State will be the upcoming opponent, but there’s all week to talk about how Texas matches up with the Sun Devils. For now, let’s close the book on a wild and crazy weekend of baseball.
Personally, I think the snub of Sam Stafford is the biggest complaint with the All-Tournament team. On my ballot, I had Stafford as the MOP. In two games, the junior left-hander started twice, pitching 10.2 combined innings of one-run ball. If it wasn’t for his gutsy effort Monday against Kent State, I’m not so sure the Longhorns would have won, as they really had nobody else who could have effectively started and lasted three or four innings.
Inside Augie’s Mind
I’ve transcribed head coach Augie Garrido’s comments from today’s post-game press conference, in which he explained how he worked all six pitchers in the game.
“The way that their lineup breaks down, they have more lefts than rights. We were trying to get Sam Stafford [a left-hander] through the top of the order twice, and that’s what we did. We felt if he did that, he had done his job. Then the numbers added up and we made switches from there. Depending on if it was a momentum-shifting moment or not, which it was when we brought him in, we were bringing in Milner. If we had had five or six runs, we would have put in Andrew McKirahan. Either way, we wanted to throw a lefty. When the lineup turns over to righties, we would have taken them out for Carrillo, if there were runners on base, or Nathan Thornhill, if it was a clean inning.
Cole Green and Taylor Jungmann committed to an inning, so we could work backwards from Corey Knebel. We thought he could throw two innings if we needed him to. He didn’t, because Sam went farther than we had thought he would. So what that did is put Knebel into one, so we were able to pitch Cole and Jungmann one inning each. Between Cole and Jungmann, Jungmann is more effective against left-handed hitters than Cole is. That’s how we staggered the pitching changes.”
Impressions of Kent State
Color me impressed with the quality of play that the three-seed Golden Flashes brought to this regional. They gave the Longhorns all they wanted and more. Head coach Scott Stricklin made it a point to acknowledge how well the Austin crowd treated his team.
“I want to say how much we enjoyed our week here in Austin. This is the fourth regional that we’ve been to in the last five years and I can say that it’s done right here. The fans were unbelievable. They got on us but they got on us the right way. They cheered for their team. They cheered for our players when they made good plays. That’s the first thing our kids were talking about last night how good the fans are here and how good the people are. That’s the first thing I want to say, how much we enjoyed our stay here in Austin.”
While his coach was a class act, I’m not sure Kent State pitcher Andrew Chafin made any friends this weekend. I’m not talking about the gem he twirled against the Longhorns on Saturday night.
On Sunday, Chafin and his teammates were walking across the field into the dugout a few hours before the game began, and Chafin looked up at the press box and dragged his pointer finger across his neck — the “throat slash.” Not sure what he’s got against a bunch of guys with laptops and tape recorders.
Lusson goes long
Kevin Lusson has got to be the story of the weekend. The junior designated hitter, who came into the regional hitting .190, had quite a series. Saturday night, he hit a ninth-inning, three-run home run against Kent State that brought the Longhorns within two. The momentum carried over Sunday when Lusson, with a runner on third, slapped the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth against the Bobcats. The ball hopped over the right field wall. In any other case, it would have been a ground-rule double, but in walk-off situations, nothing else counts once the winning run crosses the plate.
In the nightcap, he launched another bomb over the right-field wall to distance Texas’ lead against Kent State in a must-win game.
The Longhorns still come away with the series win, but can’t be happy about the egg they laid today. Only one player registered multiple hits (Tant Shepherd), and six starters went hitless. Texas had a chance in the sixth inning, with the bases loaded, but Jonathan Walsh swung and missed at what would have been a ball four that was neck-high to end the inning.
Stafford Gets a Quick Hook
Sam Stafford got his second straight loss of the season after starting out 5-0. When he’s hitting the strike zone and in his groove, the junior southpaw may be the second-best pitcher the Longhorns have, but when he’s throwing like he did Sunday, Texas is in trouble. Stafford allowed Oklahoma to get their leadoff batter on in the first three innings, and never looked completely comfortable. He lasted just 3.2 innings, with one earned run.
Stafford, without a doubt, has the shortest leash of any other pitcher on the team. Pitching coach Skip Johnson had freshman Nathan Thornhill warming up in the bullpen in the first inning. That can’t help a pitcher’s confidence.
“Seeing guys warm up in the bullpen, it’s something that you can’t focus or dwell on, so I need to prevent that by throwing strikes,” Stafford said. “When I’m in a rough patch, they tend to have a short leash. You can’t get inside the coaches’ minds.”
Head coach Augie Garrido called Stafford’s start “okay.”
Walla Back In Action
He’s still too injured to play center field, but it was an encouraging sign to see Cohl Walla in action as the DH today. Since fouling a pitch off his knee March 29, Walla hasn’t done anything but pinch-hit. Paul Montalbano has filled in well for him, so well in fact that Garrido has hinted that he’s earned the right to be the starter once Walla is back to full form, but there’s no denying the fact that these Longhorns are better when they have a bat like Walla’s in the lineup. He was 1-for-4 today with a ninth-inning RBI-single.
Weiss’ Streak Ends
Freshman third baseman Erich Weiss failed to record a base hit Sunday afternoon, which means that his hitting streak is done after 15 games. Weiss was four away from the Texas freshman record, and 10 away from the school record of 25, which was set by fellow third baseman Michael Torres a few years ago.
Don’t look now, but the Longhorns are suddenly showing flashes of power. Brandon Loy went deep Friday (over the 375-foot sign in left-center), Weiss took one out over right-center on Saturday, and Shepherd hit one that landed right where Loy’s did. On the year, Shepherd and Weiss are tied for the team lead with three apiece.
But none of the three were more impressive than Oklahoma’s Max White, who got such a good handle on a Hoby Milner fastball that it was a short bounce away from hitting a moving car in the parking lot.
Big 12 Conference Race
Had they won Sunday, the Longhorns would be in first place in the Big 12 standings. But they didn’t, and that means they’re tied with Texas A&M, who lost two of three from Missouri in Columbia.
No. 7 Texas faces Prairie View A&M Tuesday.
Texas head baseball coach Augie grrido looks on during a practice as the Longhorns prepare for their season opener today against Duke. Garrido, the NCAA Division I all-time leader in wins, has led Texas to the College World Series seven times in his 15 seasons.
Augie Garrido: We have two of our star players from last year that will be out for the season. This is always a big blow for any team, but less of a blow for college players than for professional players because professional players are so experienced at what they’re doing — you can predict pretty well their performances for the year. It’s not like that with the college player. The college player will have a very poor year and a great year, or a great year and a very poor year. The lack of experience with either being highly successful or failing miserably affects the next opportunity they have. With that said, we are extremely disappointed in the fact that we’ve lost a high number of quality innings from Sam Stafford and we’ve lost a leadoff hitter and center fielder that is one of the best in the conference. So one year a long time ago at Fullerton, we had seven outfielders and I told the seventh outfielder after the first semester that he should transfer because he was a good ballplayer but we had six guys ahead of him and he wasn’t going to play. Injuries, as always, came into the picture and he ended being the starting right fielder as conference started. At the end of the conference, he was the MVP of the conference — not of the team — of the conference. So I’ve given up on being able to predict the performances of college baseball players.
DT: Nathan Thornhill mostly came out of the bull pen last season. What did you see from him that made you decide to make him the Friday starter?
Garrido: How he came out of the bull pen last year. He has a leadership personality. He has the courage and confidence to take the risk to throw a fastball over the plate on the first pitch after the opposing team’s hit a home run. And he’s done all of that over and over again. So that’s what we’re looking for from all of our pitchers. They really can’t strike everybody out. They really can’t control the hitter. But they can make quality pitches no matter what happens to them on the pitch before the next one. And he does that.
DT: What do you expect from Hoby Milner this year? Garrido: [Thornhill and Milner] very much alike. One’s right-handed and one’s left-handed. They pretty much have the same velocity on their fastball, the same style of pitching using the fastball on both sides of the plate, a bit of a breaking ball and use of a changeup.
DT: Are Hoby and Thornhill going to be 1A and 1B this year?
Garrido: You don’t know for the whole year. We play the whole season week by week. We take one week at a time for every player. For the position players, it’s usually four games. For the pitchers it’s usually one game. In this game, it’s a game of falls and recoveries. So we’re not concerned with one fall unless it’s connected to attitude where they quit. Then we’re putting them back on the mound. With the lineup we’re not going to have somebody have a bad game and then jerk them out of the lineup. We take the season week by week, evaluate the performances at the end of the week and start over a brand new season. That’s the way we keep our stats, too. We start over every week. It’s too long of a season to try to predict or set numerical goals like winning 20 games or whatever it is. Go play. Have fun with it.
DT: After losing upperclassmen like Sam Stafford and Cohl Walla, do you see some of the sophomores that had big seasons as freshmen stepping up into leadership roles this season?
Garrido: We had five freshmen players that were key players on last year’s team. All of them have very fine leadership qualities. So they are stepping into that role and doing a good job with that.
DT: What’s it like having Jordan Etier back on the team after he was kicked off the team for his arrest for marijuana possession and evading arrest?
Garrido: Baseball-wise, he’s always been fine. On the field, he’s always hustled. He’s always tried his hardest. He’s always done his best. He’s always been an inspiration to his teammates. It’s been some of his choices off the field that led that. I think that he has been given an opportunity and he recognizes that it’s a life-changing opportunity. He was facing not being able to graduate from the University of Texas and not being able to play on the baseball team — both very important things. Now, he’s been given that opportunity back. Now he has a different view and not taking very many things for granted. He’s making better choices off the field. He’s in a structured environment in his home life now. He’s more detailed and is making better choices in what he does and how he does it and when he does it. I think he’s very excited about the opportunity to control his own life.
DT: What do you think your chances are to get back to Omaha and play in the College World Series again this season?
Garrido: It’s way too early to tell. The opportunity to go there is reasonable and realistic for us to know that we can. It’s just how consistently we can play a game of baseball. How consistently can we play an inning of baseball? How well can we play catch?
DT: Does Duke have half as good of a baseball team as it does a basketball team?
Garrido: No, they have more guys. If they come out here and play basketball, we’re going to beat them. They’ll only have five guys on the field.
Texas’ Omaha run last season was fueled by outstanding pitching, particularly from its starting rotation. The problem is, nobody’s left from last year’s rotation.
Two of the three members of the staff, Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green were lost to the MLB draft and the team’s projected ace, Sam Stafford, has suffered a shoulder injury that requires season-ending surgery. This all begs the question — who will be included in the rotation? And, perhaps more importantly, who is the ace?
There are two hurlers that will attempt to fill Stafford’s shoes: junior Hoby Milner, the fourth member of last year’s rotation and sophomore Nathan Thornhill, who excelled out of the bullpen last season.
Both have very similar styles on the mound and could each serve as the Friday starter for the Longhorns, although one could distinguish himself as the undisputed ace.
“Hoby and Thornhill are very much the same,” said head coach Augie Garrido. “They pound the strike zone, field their position and hold runners very well. They’re not overpowering or overwhelming but at the same time they are courageous and efficient, which is exactly what we look for in our pitchers.”
Thornhill will start out the season as the team’s Friday night starter and Milner will be pitching on Saturdays. Both will need to be at their best to fill the hole left by Stafford and the quality innings he was expected to provide.
Milner showcased his skills in his very first start of 2011 when he sparkled, pitching seven innings of two-hit ball against Maryland. He also performed well on the biggest of stages, pitching 2.2 innings of scoreless relief in the College World Series.
Thornhill displayed his abilities out of the bull pen, serving as a middle reliever, replacing starting pitchers when they struggled while safely carrying the team to its short-inning relievers. He was effective in this often thankless role with 1.89 ERA.
It was his attitude and toughness out of the bull pen that made Garrido comfortable with making the sophomore his No. 1 guy to start the season.
“His performances provide leadership and certainly there’s quality in his pitching. He is talented,” Garrido said. “He has his own style and identity but it is one that reflects the competitive courage we want all of our pitchers to have.”
However, becoming the ace is completely different than filling in on a day where the starter doesn’t have his best stuff. Thornhill will be expected to be the stopper, the man that ends losing streaks and the guy that other teams dread facing.
At least the Cedar Park native is familiar with the spotlight; he was an all-state starting pitcher and all-district quarterback in high school, both pieces of evidence that prove he can be dominant on the mound.
Thornhill is capable of becoming the staff’s ace but is still young, and it would be a lot to expect an exceptional season in his second year of college baseball and first as a starter.
Milner, on the other hand, is much more experienced. He has pitched in big-game situations and has the experience as a starter to naturally make the transition into the rotation.
He posted numbers last season indicating his ability to become a bona fide starter as Milner was 7-4 with a 2.45 ERA while holding opponents to a .201 batting average.
With another season of pitching under his belt, those numbers could easily develop into statistics characteristic of an ace.
“I’m used to just being the set-up, bullpen guy but it’s an exciting role for me and I’m pumped for it,” Milner said.
No matter how talented the pair is, the loss of Stafford is still a huge blow. But now a young, talented group of Longhorns have the chance to step in and do something great — something that may even include a trip back to Omaha.
Starting pitcher Sam Staffored will miss the entire season with a left shoulder injury. The southpaw was 6-2 as a junior last year.
The senior southpaw was drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round of last June’s MLB draft, but could not come to an agreement with the Yankees, who were concerned about Stafford’s shoulder injury.
Stafford, who was expected to be the Longhorns’ ace, will now miss the entire season after undergoing shoulder surgery. After experiencing tightness in his shoulder, Stafford had an MRI and found out that he had not fully healed. He could have surgery as early as next week and has the option of redshirting and returning for the 2013 season.
After freshman and sophomore seasons that saw Stafford make only 11 appearances, Stafford came on strong during his junior year. He made 17 starts, posted a 6-2 record and a 1.77 ERA while striking out 91, walking a team-high 42 in 81.1 innings and holding opposing hitters to a .189 batting average.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound left-hander was the only starting pitcher remaining from a rotation that carried Texas to its NCAA-record 34th College World Series appearance last season. Dick Howser Trophy winner Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green were the other two members of that vaunted group of starting pitchers that combined to go 27-9 with a 2.14 ERA.
With Stafford, Jungmann and Green gone, the Longhorns will have to revamp their rotation. Sophomore right-hander Nathan Thornhill and junior left-hander Hoby Milner are both candidates to replace Stafford as Texas’ No. 1 pitcher and Friday starter. Thornhill, a starting quarterback and standout starting pitcher in high school at Cedar Park, posted a 3-0 mark and 1.89 ERA last season while Milner was 7-4 with a 2.45 ERA in 2011.
True freshman John Curtiss, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander who was a USA Today second-team All-American selection as a senior at Southlake Carroll last season, is expected to begin the year as a starting pitcher as well.
Curtiss, a 30th-round pick by the Colorado Rockies coming out of high school, put up a 9-0 record and 0.96 ERA while striking out 101 a year ago.
The news of Stafford being lost for the season comes less than a week after Texas announced that sophomore outfielder Cohl Walla suffered a season-ending injury of his own as the Lake Travis product tore his left ACL in practice.
After Stafford’s surgery, the Longhorns will be without both their leadoff hitter and best starting pitcher.
Printed on Monday, February 13, 2012 as: Stafford sidelined for year with injury