‘We’ve got to put the ball in play’: TCU baseball’s struggles continue in loss to Lamar


TCU right fielder Austin Davis tallies three hits in five at-bats in a 9-6 loss to Lamar on April 18, 2023. (Photo courtesy of GoFrogs.com)

By Charles Baggarly

FORT WORTH – The TCU Horned Frogs were down and needed some “Lupton magic” to tie the ballgame in the ninth inning.

Designated hitter David Bishop, facing one out, hit a fly ball to right field with runners on first and second. Lamar right fielder Tanner Wilson made the easy play, and catcher Kurtis Byrne tagged. Surprisingly, speedy right fielder Austin Davis tagged from first with the Frogs needing three runs to tie the ballgame.

Davis slid into second, barely beating the tag, but the ball was thrown back to first base. He was called out for leaving the bag early, and the ballgame ended with Lamar defeating TCU 9-5 on Tuesday.

Davis took another risk in the fourth inning, managing to turn a hard-hit ball to left field into a double. The right fielder barely beat the tag at second, and the Frogs started the inning with a runner in scoring position. This time, rolling the dice paid off.

“You live by the sword, you die by the sword,” TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos said, referencing the aggressive base running. “But we can’t be stupid.”

In addition to the game-ending play, the Frogs had other missed opportunities. TCU had runners in scoring position facing one out in the fourth and eighth innings. Back-to-back strikeouts fizzled what could’ve been sizable rallies in both instances.

“We’ve got to put the ball in play,” Saarloos said. “Less than two outs. Guys in scoring position.”

With runners in scoring position, TCU hit two for 12, which is a batting average of .167. With the bases loaded, the Horned Frogs were hitless in four at-bats.

On top of the untimely offense, another base running mistake limited production. Bishop, starting for Karson Bowen who was receiving rest, was called out at third on a ground ball to the left side in the eighth inning. Bishop, who went one for five with an RBI and two strikeouts, wasn’t forced to run but chose to advance and stretch his luck.

Davis, who went three for five at the plate, also made a spectacular catch in right field in the sixth inning, preventing multiple runs from scoring. The great defensive effort, however, was inconsequential, as the Frog offense couldn’t erase the Cardinals lead.

Left fielder Luke Boyers led the offense with four hits in five at-bats.

A disastrous start

The Frogs showcased a lack of focus in the first two innings, making a flurry of avoidable, careless mistakes. Things were already bad after two throwing errors and an interference plated a run in the first inning. Somehow, the second inning was much worse.

Starting pitcher Braeden Sloan started the disastrous inning by allowing a single and hitting a batter. Right fielder Tanner Wilson looked to move the runners over, laying a perfect bunt down the third base line.

Sloan ran after the ball, nearly colliding into third baseman Brayden Taylor, who was loudly calling for the ball. Sloan had no chance to make a play, and his involvement ensured Taylor didn’t have room to make a throw. Although the play would’ve been challenging, Taylor has a reputation for making tough throws.

A few base hits and a balk later, the Cardinals secured a five-nothing lead. Sam Stoutenborough was brought into the game but couldn’t prevent another run from being scored.

Luke Savage returns

Luke Savage, a Preseason All-Big 12 Conference relief pitcher, had been out of action since March 19, 2023. On Tuesday, he made his return to the mound.

The veteran right hander sent the Cardinal batters away in order, capping off a successful return to action by catching Kanin Dodge looking at called strike three.

“[Savage] threw a clean inning,” Saarloos said.

In 2022, Savage was one of Saarloos’ go to relievers in close, high pressure situations. The junior right hander has only made five appearances in 2023, but he has loads of experience under his belt. Last season, Savage tallied a 2.72 ERA in 39 2/3 innings pitched.

Saarloos said Savage can have a “big impact” moving forward.

“[Savage] gives us a guy that we can go to that has done it before,” Saarloos said, referencing Savage’s elite play in 2022.

Bullpen performances

After Lamar’s offense drove in five runs in the second inning, TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos left the dugout and walked through left field to visit the bullpen.

Saarloos had a simple message to the pen after Sloan didn’t set up the team to succeed.

“If you get someone out, you’re going to pitch more,” Saarloos said.

Sloan didn’t set the Frogs up to succeed, and the bullpen had a tough task ahead of them. For the most part, the relievers answered the call and gave the Frogs a fighting chance.

TCU utilized five relief pitchers: Savage, Stoutenborough, Rodriguez, Hunter Hodges and Mason Speaker. Stoutenborough tossed two 2/3 innings, recording zero earned runs. He allowed two hits and struck out two batters.

Relief pitcher Mason Speaker entered the game after the Cardinals scored their final run, keeping them off the scoreboard for two 2/3 innings.

“Nice job by a couple guys,” Saarloos said. “But you’re not gonna win games like that. You’re not going to win games by always putting your offense behind the table.”

Louis Rodriguez, a freshman, had a four-outing stretch without allowing an earned run near the beginning of the season. In his last five appearances, including on Tuesday, the young right-hander has given up 10 runs. On Tuesday, Rodriguez allowed three base hits and two earned runs, failing to record a single out.

Saarloos said he’ll need to look at the film to see what specifically went wrong with Rodriguez and Sloan’s performances.

“My guess is a lot of balls in the middle of the plate,” Saarloos said.

Up next

TCU (22-15, 7-5 Big 12) will travel to Morgantown to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in a weekend series. Game one of the series will start 5:30 p.m. Friday and will be televised on ESPN+.