While we know pretty much what kind of outings we will see every weekend from Winkler, Purke and Maxwell, pretty much every other aspect of the Frogs pitching staff has been a complete crap shoot up to this point in the season. Once Erik Millier started to mimic the DisAstros bullpen and decided to stop trying to get people out in the 9th inning, I really think it threw Coach Schloss's plans for this pitching staff coming into the season into complete disarray (Kaleb Merck's Tommy John surgery didn't help either). However, over the course of the last 6 games which included a loss to juggernaut SFA (thanks, Miller), last weekend's series sweep against the vaunted Air Force Falcons and the two game sweep over perennial powerhouse UT Pan American on Tuesday and Wednesday, things finally seem to be coming into form with the pitching staff.
To begin with, the Erik Miller experiment at closer seems to finally be over. With Miller at the back of the bullpen, the Frogs were 0-4 when tied after 8, 0-7 in one-run games, and 0-1 in extra innings. Since Miller was moved into what seems to be his new home, the Tuesday starter, TCU has already had one come from behind win in the 9th. Now while it's unfair to blame all of that on Miller (he's not the guy leaving runners stranded everywhere), he hadn't been helping the cause at all. Before being moved out of the bullpen, his ERA was somewhere north of 6. Since his 2 starts, the last of which was a dominating 0 run performance Tuesday night against an overmatched UTPA team, his ERA has dipped down to 4.38. Miller leads the team with 5 losses with 4 of those coming at the end of ballgames. Let's just keep him near the end of the bench when the late innings come around. Honestly I think Miller is more suited to be a starter or long reliever, because he doesn't have a dominating strikeout pitch like freshman Andrew Mitchell, our new closer does, who can crank it up around 95 and blow hitters away. His .53 ERA, 34 K's in 34 innings, and .157 opponents batting average speak for themselves. By comparison, Miller has a 4.38 ERA, 18 K's in 24.2 innings, and a whopping opponents BA of .274. Translation: he wasn't getting people out down the stretch, and it was time to make a change. Mitchell, although only a freshman, clearly has the talent and the makeup to be a closer for this team right now. We will see how he handles the nerves when postseason play gets going, but for now, he's definitely our best option.
Another young player who has emerged and could possibly save the disaster that has been the Frogs bullpen is freshman Stefan Crichton. Crichton (2-1, 1.12 ERA, 1 save) has been very versatile for the Frogs with 2 starts, and appearances out of the bullpen at pretty much any time needed, and as you can see by the numbers, he's succeeded. Crichton's value is visible now, but he could become a HUGE asset in the postseason when we really need some guys to eat innings in order to save our big 3 of Winkler, Purke, and Maxwell. If there's such thing as a set up man in college baseball (which there really isn't), then I guess Crichton would be our guy, but he's also got the ability to step into a postseason starting role if need be.
Finally, last night marked the TCU debut of freshman Nick Frey, who learned hours earlier that he would be making his debut, and went 4 solid innings allowing no runs and just 3 hits. If he can be a productive arm for TCU down the stretch as well, things might not be as dire as they once looked. It should also be noted that Kyle Starratt, another struggling arm out of our bullpen, has been diagnosed with a sprained elbow, but they don't think it's serious. What is serious, however, is Starratt's inability to get batters out of late, so maybe a couple weeks off will do the guy some good as we work these young arms into the mix more. Starratt is from Boise, but I don't think he's intentionally trying to Kyle Brotzman our baseball team, although that conspiracy theory should be watched closely.
So Coach Schloss seems to be settling upon a bullpen pecking order which will be crucial to this team's success down the stretch, and the weekday starter, for now, appears to be Erik Miller. However, I think every time Miller pitches going forward, he might be pitching for his life in this rotation. There's more pressure on him than anyone else on the staff right now, so let's hope he responds accordingly. There are a few other guys who have logged innings this year, such as Appleby, who has been a solid contributor for about the 7th straight season. There are also a few guys who have pitched who haven't faired very well, but since I doubt they will sniff the field come postseason, I won't bother mentioning them until they do it when it matters.