Teams never want to start 0-3 on the season, no matter the sport. And starting 0-3 for the season is definitely not something the Houston Cougars baseball team wanted to do, yet after being swept by Texas State in this season's opening series, that's exactly the hole the Cougars find themselves in.
The team started the season by being shut out 6-0 on Friday night. Things improved on Saturday after they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning on Saturday night, but starter Ty Stuckey allowed Texas State to get back into the game before being pulled in the fourth inning, but not soon enough to stop the damage which was followed by the further imploding of the bullpen as the Cougars lost 6-3. The Cougars jumped out to the 2-0 first inning lead on Sunday afternoon, but freshman pitcher Eric Brooks couldn't hold the lead, and the bullpen imploded so much that not even a late inning rally was enough to aid the team as they lost 9-7.
But despite the losses, manager Rayner Noble was able to find some silver linings. Despite their rough starts, Noble was encouraged by the pitching of Stuckey and Brooks.
"Ty Stuckey was a little rough around the edges," he told Hair Balls. "He didn't have his breaking ball, but I thought he hung in there, and showed that there's some possibilities."
Then there was Brooks, whose first collegiate pitching appearance was his start yesterday.
"He started getting the ball up a little bit, and he struggled a little bit with his breaking ball," Noble said. "But like I say, your first college outing, I thought it was okay. I'm encouraged. He's got a good arm, and I think he's got a good future."
And Noble was encouraged by the play of some of his regulars, especially shortstop Blake Kelso who went three-for-five on Saturday and singled and scored on Sunday. And Austin Gracey also had a good weekend with the bat as well as contributing with some stellar defense at third base throughout the weekend.
For the most part, the meat of the batting order did not have a good weekend, though Caleb Ramsey and Matt Creel played key roles in the late-inning comeback attempt yesterday that saw the Cougars score three times in the eighth inning and twice in the ninth. Ramsey powered the second pitch that he saw in the eighth deep over the rightfield wall for a two-run homer that made it 9-4, and Creel kept the game close by moving from right field to pitcher in the eighth inning where he was finally able to stop the bleeding caused by the bullpen.
But Creel made a key mistake in the bottom of the eighth when he was nailed trying to stretch a double into a triple -- he would have scored had he stayed at second as the very next batter, Matt Murphy's single would have been enough to get him home.
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But the comeback attempt on Sunday wasn't enough as the bullpen imploded time after time over the weekend. "I know one thing we've got to do, we've got to pitch better out of the bullpen," Noble said. "We were absolutely terrible out of the bullpen this weekend."
The baseball team is off until Friday when they host a weekend series against Santa Clara. And this is a week that Noble and his staff will spend working as they try and figure out some fixes to the lineup while trying to make the positives from the weekend carry over.
"I think we're finding out where guys need to be," he said after Sunday's loss. "The thing that I've got to figure out is where people are going to be best suited in the lineup. It's good to see Ramsey put a charge into the ball because we're going to need that guy in the lineup. He's been sick the past couple of days, but it looked like he was okay today."
And the starting pitching, while not great, was enough to keep the Cougars in all of the games. The problem was the bullpen and the lack of timely hitting. If Noble can figure out some fixes for the bullpen, and if they can figure out the whole-hitting-with-two-outs thing, then the team just might be able to recover from this slow start. If not, it might end up being a long season.