Poor pitching, defense costs Frogs 13-9 loss to Arizona State

Senior third baseman Elliott Barzilli hit his second home run of the season in the sixth inning. (Photo by Michael Clements)

Senior third baseman Elliott Barzilli hit his second home run of the season in the sixth inning. (Photo by Michael Clements)

By Branson Nelson

The No. 1 Horned Frogs dropped their first game of the season to the Sun Devils 13-9 at Lupton Stadium Friday, on a night that saw TCU surrender 13 hits and commit four errors.

“Poor defense, giving up extra bases obviously stood out,” TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We played very, very poorly, but at the same time they played great.”

Senior starting pitcher Brian Howard (1-1) worked around a walk and an error in the first inning before going on to retire 11 in a row to get through the first four innings scoreless and hit-less.

TCU (4-1) took its only lead of the night after they loaded the bases with no outs in the second. Sophomore Josh Watson struck out before senior Ryan Merrill drove in his third run of the year on a sacrifice fly caught at the wall in right field. The Frogs ended up stranding two in the inning after junior Connor Wanhanen struck out.

Arizona State’s (4-1) six-hole hitter, Tyler Williams, snapped Howard’s streak of consecutive batters retired as he led off the top of the fifth with a solo home run, tying the game at one. Two more hits and a hit batter pushed the second and third runs of the night across for the Sun Devils.

Howard ended up throwing just five innings, surrendering three earned runs on three hits, a walk and seven strikeouts in his first loss of the 2017 season.

“I thought he was over-throwing a little bit, trying to be too perfect. He was pitching behind in the count a lot,” Schlossnagle said. “For the way the ballpark was playing, you can’t get behind in the count, and he did.”

The Sun Devils added a run in the sixth as the Frogs sent three different freshmen to the mound. The run was charged to Austin Boyles, who let two runners reach base. Cal Coughlin and Haylen Green managed to limit the damage and strand three runners.

Senior third baseman Elliott Barzilli led off the bottom of the sixth with his second home run of the season. The home run ended Barzilli’s 0-12 drought that dated back to his home run in last Saturday’s game against Penn State. The homer cut the deficit to just two.

The wheels started coming off for the Frogs in the top of the seventh though as Green gave up two unearned runs. Third baseman Andrew Snow struck out to lead off the inning, but reached base on a wild pitch. Green got the next two batters, but Snow moved into scoring position on a passed ball.

With two down, Watson dropped a fly ball allowing a run to score. Williams singled in another run making it 6-2 at the seventh inning stretch.

The Horned Frogs went quietly in the bottom of the seventh before Green gave up three runs in the top of the eighth, totaling five for him on the night in 1.1 innings. Two walks and a single chased Green from the game.

“We asked a lot of Haylen Green tonight. I thought he came in and made good pitches,” Schlossnagle said. “Probably left him out there too long, but I don’t want to burn our bullpen in a game we’re losing by that much, in the first game of a series.”

Junior Ryan Burnett came on for the first time this season, allowing all three of the runners he inherited from Green to score on two sacrifice fly balls and an error on junior catcher Evan Skoug, the Frogs’ fourth of the night.

TCU answered the Sun Devils’ three-run inning with three of their own in the bottom of the eighth. RBIs from sophomore Luken Baker, senior Cam Warner and senior Nolan Brown made it a 9-5 game heading into the final frame.

Nolan Brown continues to lead the Frogs in hitting with an average of .500 (7-14) with a .632 on-base percentage and six RBI’s. Brown is the only Horned Frog to have reached base in all five games this season.

Sophomore relief pitcher Dalton Horton pitched the ninth inning, giving up four runs on five hits in his season debut. Horton’s four runs seemed unimportant at the time, but a Horned Frog rally in the ninth made the runs the difference in the game.

Horned Frog relievers had given up only one run over 16 innings in the first four games of the season before allowing 10 runs in just four innings against ASU.

Down 13-5, four runs on three home runs from sophomore Michael Landestoy, junior Austen Wade and Baker pulled the Frogs within four.

In the end, the Horned Frogs’ seven runs in the final two innings and four home runs of the night were not enough to overcome the Sun Devils.

“They played great,” Schlossnagle said. “They have some really impressive young hitters.”

After striking out 13 times against ASU pitching on Friday, TCU has now struck out 45 times in just five games, totaling nine strike outs per game. In 2016, the Frogs struck out just over 6.5 times per game. Pre-season All-American Evan Skoug leads the team with 12 strikeouts in 23 trips to the plate.

Freshman Nick Lodolo will make his second career start on Saturday against Arizona State. First pitch will be at 4 p.m. at Lupton Stadium.