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.”