The contrast has been stark this season, the results frustrating.
Fridays have become a black hole for the Texas Tech baseball team. The difference in results between the opening game of the weekend or series and the rest of the weekend have been the biggest roadblock to the Red Raiders possibly being in control of the race for the Big 12 Championship three weeks into the season.
Tech (23-9, 4-5 in Big 12) has made great strides in the second year under head coach Tim Tadlock in almost every phase of the game. Tech ranks third in the Big 12 in pitching with a 3.06 ERA, way ahead of the 4.86 mark from last year, and the Red Raiders are on pace to set a new school single-season record for fielding percentage with a Big 12-leading .981. Tech is in the middle of the Big 12 pack in hitting with a .282 average.
“We’re not gaining any confidence by playing with anybody,” Tadlock said. “We think we can play with anybody, it’s just a matter of going out and doing it and doing the things we need to win the game.”
On Fridays, however, it’s a different story.
Of the Red Raiders’ nine losses, five have come on Fridays when facing the opposing team’s top starter, and even the wins have been a 3-2 decision over Oral Roberts and a 5-3 victory over New Mexico State.
In all five of those Friday losses the opponent has had either all-American or all-conference type starters, such as Indiana’s Joey DeNato, Houston’s Aaron Garza, TCU’s Brandon Finnegan and Texas’ Parker French.
In seven Friday games this season, Tech has been outscored 36-9, including four shutouts and a one-run effort against Texas last week. The opposing pitchers Tech has faced in those five losses are a collective 23-7 on the year with a 1.76 ERA
Outside of Friday, Tech is 21-4 on the year and 3-2 in the Big 12. The Red Raiders have outscored opponents 173-72 in all other games.
So why the disparity?
“It’s just a thing where we’re kind of pushing ourselves too much on Friday,” said shortstop Tim Proudfoot, who returned to the lineup last week after missing several games due to a left shoulder injury. “That’s usually the big game of the series and facing the better pitchers the other team has. As long as we’re not pressing too much and playing our baseball, we’ll be fine.”
The problem is, Tech has not played its game, not on Friday, and in the last two weeks has not even gotten the pitching to stay in games late.
Of the first three losses on Friday, the Red Raiders lost either 1-0 or were down by just a run in the late innings. The last two weeks, however, games have gotten away from Tech as its own Friday starter, Dominic Moreno, has struggled.
In his last two starts against TCU (lost 9-0) and Texas (lost 11-1), Moreno (1-5) has allowed eight earned runs on nine hits and seven walks with six strikeouts in 72/3 innings.
He left his last start in the fourth after taking a line drive off his arm in the bottom of the third, allowing the first two runners to reach, and the Longhorns blew the game open with a four-run inning en route to an 11-1 victory.
“Some of it is mechanical, some of it is mental,” Tadlock said of Moreno. “He puts a lot of duress on himself from the standpoint of knowing he’s a Friday-night guy and it’s going to be a low-scoring game, and sometimes he gets to the end of the game before the game even starts.
“He puts that pressure on himself, pressure he doesn’t need to put on himself. He needs to deal with it a lot like we talk about with hitters a lot, dealing with it one pitch at a time, one inning at a time.”
Moreno threw 11/3 innings of relief in Tech’s 6-3 win Tuesday over New Mexico in what would normally be a bullpen day. But Tadlock also mentioned that the coaching staff is looking at possibly doing some different things pitching wise for the weekend.
Tech’s bullpen, particularly left-handers Cameron Smith Jonny Drozd and right-handers Corey Taylor and Ryan Moseley, have been consistently good all season, and left-hander Dylan Dusek continues to pitch well in the midweek. About the only consistent factor to Tech’s weekend starting rotation has been left-hander Chris Sadberry on Sundays, where Tech is 6-1 and has outscored opponents 48-14.
The good news for Tech is, though it will still face good pitching on Fridays, none of the teams on the remaining Big 12 schedule, including this weekend at Oklahoma State (20-9, 3-3) have a pitcher who currently ranks in the top 10 in the Big 12 in ERA. The closest is West Virginia left-hander Harrison Musgrave (2.06), and the Red Raiders won’t see him until the final weekend of the season in Lubbock.
“This simplest thing is we just need to go play and not worry about it being Friday,” Tadlock said. “Obviously we’ve given up some runs the last two Fridays. But both Fridays we decided there were certain points of the game where guys needed to get some outs and when they didn’t get them, we moved on. But we do need to pitch better and we need to swing the bats better.”
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