I had been wondering over the past few days which of TCU's usual weekend starting pitchers would get the nod for tonight's Super Regional opener against UCLA, because it seemed logical for any of them to be picked. Freshman Preston Morrison has been the most consistent all year with his 1.98 ERA and MWC Pitcher of the Year honors, sophomore Stefan Crichton may have the hottest hand after his complete-game dominance against A&M in College Station last weekend, and Andrew Mitchell is the most experienced of the three and has the most rest.
In a bold and surprising move, though, Schlossnagle picked none of the three. Instead, freshman left-hander Brandon Finnegan will start tonight's game, which will be aired nationally on ESPN at 8:00pm Texas time. I was as taken aback by the decision as anyone, but upon reflecting on it a bit I think this is a good choice for a number of reasons:
-The UCLA batting order is full of lefties. Of the top six hitters in the Bruin line up, five are either left-handed or switch-hitters. Their offense is their greatest strength and perhaps what gives them the edge heading into the series, so putting some of their best hitters off-balance in Game 1 by making them face a left-handed pitcher may be an effective obstacle to them developing rhythm or momentum at the plate for the weekend.
-Finnegan is this team's Derek Holland. He's definitely not the most consistent pitcher on the Horned Frog roster, but he's been much better over the course of the second half of the season- and like the Dutch Oven, when he's on...he's ON. Look no further to the gems he twirled- on the road, no less- against Oklahoma and Ole Miss in recent weeks for evidence of his potential brilliance. Schlossnagle has been raving about Finnegan's stuff since the fall, predicting great things in the TCU career of the Southwest HS alum. Maybe tonight is another big step forward to proving his head coach right.
-Beating UCLA ace Adam Plutko is going to be a tall order no matter who's on the mound for the Frogs. TCU's best chances to win this series were always going to be getting the best of the Bruins' other two starters, so why not roll the dice a little tonight? Mitchell will be available out of the bullpen as insurance, and saving Morrison & Crichton for Games 2 & 3 enhances TCU's chances of winning those games.
If Finnegan struggles, I'm sure Schlossnagle will be second-guessed about this decision for a long time. But this team, to use a cliche, is playing with house money after already exceeding the expectations most of us had for them. TCU's fantastic freshmen have already stepped up in some really big moments in this tournament, so like I said earlier...why not?