New bats bring resurgence of ‘Augie ball’

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Sometimes "Augie ball" is infuriating for Texas fans.

The proliferation of small ball, the endless sacrifice bunts — Texas head coach Augie Garrido is a master of getting base runners on, even when it isn’t the most exciting way to play.

After hitting a school-record 81 homers in 2010, it’s back to Garrido’s preferred style of deliberate, formulaic offense for the Longhorns. However, fans aren’t complaining this time: Augie ball is the only chance this team has of making it back to the College World Series.

The biggest reason why Texas can’t rely solely on the long shot is college baseball’s new metal bats are supposed to reduce ball speed and increase player safety.

There are some other factors at work. Kevin Keyes and Cameron Rupp, who combined for 35 blasts in 2010, are gone; so is Russell Moldenhauer, who knocked nine out of the park. Tant Shepherd is still here, but he’s only managed two home runs so far, half of his total at this point last season.

Disch-Falk Field is also known as a pitcher’s park, with a left-field line of 340 feet, bigger than all except Kansas State’s Tointon Family Stadium and Missouri’s Simmons Field in the Big 12 and larger than a number of professional stadiums such as the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

And with ace Taylor Jungmann, Texas has an immediate advantage in almost any pitcher’s duel.

All of that means Garrido is perfectly content to reign his hitters in. Anyone rooting for the Longhorns should be thankful to have the 62-year-old coach on their side, as there’s no better mind in college baseball to lead such an attack when home run numbers across the country are down.

“It’s easier to do than hitting,” Garrido recently said about bunting, although he could have just as easily been talking about his entire offensive philosophy. “It’s about situations and staying out of the double play and advancing runners to scoring situations so that if the opposition makes a mistake or you get a hit, you score a run.”

In fact, offensive figures across the board are down for Texas, with the team hitting at a .266 clip this year. The team is even bunting less and fewer leadoff batters are making it to base.

That’s no problem for the master of small ball, though. Garrido still has the Longhorns scoring six runs a game through a mix of pinch-hitting switches and smart two-out play plus a little sheer luck.

At 24-8, Texas has one of the best records in the Big 12 and a No. 7 national ranking in the coaches’ poll. It’s also the same exact mark that the Longhorns had through 32 games in 2009, the year the Longhorns made it all the way to the College World Series Finals only to lose to Louisiana State in three games. That year was also a down one for the Texas offense, with only 53 homers and a team slugging average of .425. The team had a dominant starter on the mound in Chance Ruffin and was able to win close games (so far this year Texas has won games 2-0, 3-1, 3-0, 3-1 and 2-1).

It’s easy to make comparisons but hard to live up to them. We’ll see if the Longhorns make it back to Omaha this year, but if they do it’s because of Garrido’s dedicated — sometimes stubborn — adherence to a simple principle: Don’t make it flashy, make it work.