Ask any rabid Texas Tech baseball fan if they would have taken the results of this past weekend in Houston — and I did ask a couple of them that I know — and the overwhelming majority would likely have said yes.
Given the Red Raiders’ struggles over the last 20 years against Rice, most would trade losing to Sam Houston and Houston to beat the Owls, which Tech did, 2-1, on Sunday, to go 1-2 at the Houston College Classic and break a 15-game losing streak to Rice.
But being happy with the results doesn’t mean being pleased with how they came about.
Of course, the only perspective I have on the whole weekend is from the fan standpoint, an observer, as I spent my weekend in Austin at the UIL girls state basketball tournament. But thanks to social media, you’re only a drag down on the ol’ iphone Twitter account way from getting up-to-the minute results.
In that respect, it was not a lost weekend for the Red Raiders (9-3), but it wasn’t exactly the weekend they wanted going in, either.
The good news is that level of competition should give the coaching staff a pretty good idea of who can handle the heat of Big 12 Conference play in two weeks and who will be facing Tuesday competition.
■ HITTING: Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of evidence to show that there’s much different offensively from this team and the 2013 squad which struggled to score runs and finished in the bottom of the Big 12 in average.
Coming out of Houston, the Red Raiders are hitting a modest .267, which is actually down more than 30 points from the beginning of the weekend. Injuries and inconsistency are the two biggest downfalls to the Tech lineup at the moment.
Through 12 games, sophomore first baseman Eric Gutierrez and senior outfielder Adam Kirsch share the lead in hitting at .359, with freshman infielder Ryan Long a close third at .343. I think it’s safe to say that Gutierrez and Kirsch will be mainstays in the lineup the rest of the season, and Tech will have an interesting dilemma on its hands when and if junior shortstop Tim Proudfoot returns from his shoulder injury.
Proudfoot had gotten off to a hot start when he exited the lineup, and Long, who was named to the Houston College Classic all-tournament team, has filled in nicely. Head coach Tim Tadlock will have to find a place for him somewhere. Tech will get a boost when sophomore outfielder Tyler Neslony hopefully returns to the lineup after having surgery to repair an injured right hand.
But the problem is most of the other Tech veterans are struggling mightily. Senior third baseman Jake Barrios, who hit .298 last year, is hitting just .156 through 12 games. Sophomore Bryant Burleson was hitting .400 after the first weekend but is just 3 for 28 in his last eight games, dropping his average to .209.
No one else who has more than five at-bats is hitting better than .250. That has to change, and change quickly, for the Red Raiders to compete in the Big 12.
■ FIELDING: You know what, despite three errors on Sunday, the Red Raiders are actually pretty OK here.
Tech’s .973 fielding percentage ranks fourth in the Big 12 and is just .001 behind West Virginia and TCU, who are tied for second.
Two errors contributed to Rice’s lone run on Sunday, but before that the Red Raiders had gone more than 30 innings without committing an error, and that’s being on natural grass for the first time this season.
The effort to find more offense has meant some of Tech’s best defenders are not in the starting lineup, and Tadlock seems more than fine with that. So far, at least from the defensive side, it’s working.
■ PITCHING: Here’s where Tech hiccupped for the first time this season, but also had some tremendous efforts as well.
The Red Raiders entered the weekend having allowed just 19 runs in nine games. In three games in Houston, they allowed 20, including an eight-run inning to Houston where a normally sure bullpen fell completely apart after a strong start by Dominic Moreno, and a start by sophomore right-hander Matt Withrow that was more reminiscent of his freshman campaign than of his two starts before the weekend.
Is it something to be overly worried about? Not at this point. For Withrow, the concern comes if he has the same kind of outing this weekend against New Mexico State, or if he begins alternating good and bad starts once Big 12 play begins a week from Friday at Baylor.
But there’s no question the pitchers need some help from the offense. Averaging 4.5 runs per game will not get the job done. At the same time, when the offense does score six runs, like it did against Sam Houston on Saturday, the pitching staff can’t be giving up 10.
One of the good things about the bad results from the weekend was the coaches saw from their pitching staff who can handle throwing in big spots in big venues, and more importantly, who can’t.
The line is obvious. Aside from Withrow, who came out of the weekend with a 4.97 ERA (was 5.90 last season), there are only four pitchers who have an ERA higher than 3.18, and it’s a distinctive gap between those four (6.75 ERA or above) and the rest of the staff.
On the good side, Tech coaches found they have a pair of bulldog newcomers in junior left-hander Chris Sadberry and freshman right-hander Ryan Moseley.
Sadberry, who left his start last week after taking a line drive off his pitching hand, baffled the Rice bats for seven scoreless innings, allowing one unearned run on five hits with two strikeouts. In 151/3 innings he has yet to allow a walk.
Moseley, the fireballer out of Cooper, showed something on Sunday, coming in with the tying run on base and two outs. He blew three fastballs by Michael Aquino, then worked a perfect ninth to record his second save of the season.
All this to say, that the weekend was both good and bad. Tech might not be quite as good as it showed opening weekend, but it’s better than the first two games it played in Houston.
The Red Raiders have six more games, all at home, before it all starts counting for real. That’s six games to find the right mix that will compete in the Big 12.
And, if nothing else, this team has shown it will compete, night in and night out. For now, that’s maybe the best thing going.