Behind Jungmann, Horns’ staff leads way in first half of season

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It should have been just about impossible for Taylor Jungmann to set the bar any higher for himself.

After all, Jungmann was already in the conversation as one of the best Texas pitchers ever, had garnered 19 wins in his first two seasons and had pitched himself into Longhorn history with a 120-pitch effort against LSU in the College World Series his freshman year.

But there he was, in the first game of his junior seasons, pitching the first complete-game shutout of his career against Maryland. The feat impressed even the one man, who after watching Jungmann firsthand for two years already, should be used to such dominance.

“I was not expecting him to pitch a complete game shutout,” said his head coach Augie Garrido. “I have almost no expectations, and still they are exceeded. I’m surprised.”

It set the tone for the first half of the season. In his next outing, in Hawaii, Jungmann again registered a complete-game shutout. Against Stanford, he threw 120 pitches and was one out away from another complete game before incredible fatigue got the best of him. Jungmann then blanked Brown and a week later did the same to Kansas State. He didn’t allow a run in Stillwater against Oklahoma State, either.

The right-hander is 7-0 on the year, his ERA a salty 1.10, and Texas is 8-0 when he starts. He grabs most of the attention, but there are other pitching story lines that have emerged in the first half of the season for the Longhorns.

Cole Green, who turned down the Detroit Tigers’ $300,000 signing bonus for the opportunity to earn his degree and win a national championship, has been inconsistent. He didn’t start his year off as he hoped, giving up six runs in four innings for a 10-1 loss to Maryland. Garrido has explained, more than once, that the pressures and distractions of being a fourth-round draft pick have hampered Green. But the senior has picked it up recently, striking out 16 and allowing just two earned runs in his past two outings.

Sandwiched between Friday and Sunday starters Jungmann and Green, both right-handers, is southpaw Hoby Milner. The sophomore is growing in his role as the usual Saturday starter, giving Texas a righty-lefty-righty
weekend combo.

“Any person who watches baseball would know that if you have a left-hander in your starting rotation, it’s a good idea to put him in between two right-handers,” Green said.

Rounding out the starting rotation is junior lefty Sam Stafford. Though he doesn’t usually pitch in weekend games, Stafford has earned a role as the Tuesday starter. He’s compiled a 5-0 record and has gotten better as the season has gone on, even flirting with a no-hitter on April 5 at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi before a rising pitch count led the Texas coaches to pull him out after seven innings.

Going into the season, Texas’ starting rotation was a known commodity. However, many were worried about the bullpen, as the Longhorns would be without the services of departed closer Chance Ruffin. A day before the opener, some asked Garrido how he would fill the void left by Ruffin, and he admitted that his team was without a surefire replacement.

“The bullpen is one of our biggest concerns,” he said at the time. “We are going to do it by committee, rotating guys in and out based on match-ups.”

The by-committee approach worked for about a week or so, until freshman Corey Knebel emerged from the pack out of nowhere and made it hard for Garrido or pitching coach Skip Johnson to go with anybody else out of the bullpen. Knebel has taken complete control of the closer role, stepping to the mound at the end of games in tight situations and throwing 95-mph heat. With eight saves already, he is more than halfway to Ruffin’s mark of 14 last year.

As usual, Texas’ pitching looks to be in good hands. The dominant Jungmann, the experienced Green, the improving Milner and Stafford, and the flamethrowing Knebel give the Longhorns one of the best staffs in the nation — a staff that, barring injury, represents Texas’ best chance to make it back to Omaha.