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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


Diverse pitching staff leads to UH’s early success


No.10 UH was able to squeeze out a 10-8 win over Texas A&M in extra innings at Blue Bell Park on Tuesday night.| Courtesy of Jenna Rabel/ The Battalion

The entire pitching staff has achieved such a statistical dominance that the names on the back of their jerseys are irrelevant.

Outside of the name on the front of the jersey, the only commonality is the 60 feet and six inches that separates the mound from home plate. The pitchers, including both tall and short and players with several personalities, form the No. 1 staff in the nation — even though they started the season as a question mark.

UH (23-5, 2-1) leads the nation in ERA and has a staff that has earned three American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week awards. Though their team ERA tops the country, the Cougars don’t have a starter who cracks the top 35, which symbolizes the quiet, workman-like approach of the men on the mound.

On one end is senior right-hander Aaron Garza, who has grown into the role of Friday starter after learning from last year’s leader Austin Pruitt and sophomore lefty Jared West, a pitcher who is new to starting but has been effective so far. Both are hulking men who are hard to handle from the vantage point of the batter.

But besides taller moundsman like Garza and West, the Cougars can also go to the efficient senior closer Chase Wellbrock or junior pitcher Jared Robinson.

“Our whole staff is pretty solid. With the starters, you have Garza, who’s really good; Jake Lemoine, who is really good; then me. I can definitely help,” West said.

Evolution of an ace

Garza has risen from a 5-5 record last season to become the staff’s ace and is reflective of a blossoming program, said head coach Todd Whitting.

“I think that’s what you want to see in your program. One guy leaves and passes the torch off to the next guy,” Whitting said. “That’s what (Garza) has been able to do. The expectation was for him to be able to step into the Friday role. We expected him to get in there and have a great year for us, and so far he has.”

Garza remains calm, despite the pressure of being a series starter, a role that sets the tone for the team at the start of a series.

“You always want to set the tone when it comes to energy,” Garza said, who credits coach Frank Anderson with developing the mental toughness needed to become the prestige piece in the starting rotation. “You want to go out and pick your teammates up. It’s our job (as starting pitchers) to go as deep as we can for as long as we can. I always want to pick up my team.”

Sophomore Jake Lemoine and West compose the normal Saturday-Sunday contingent. Lemoine is a devotee of the UH way of pitching.

“You have to keep going out there and doing your job,” said the fastball- and slider-favoring sophomore. “It’s like Coach Whitting says, ‘Just do one night. Do the best you can at your position, and the rest of the team will take over.'”

Removing the question mark

While the starting rotation will normally retain more of what passes for glamour in college baseball, the more notable storyline, reaching all the way back to UH baseball media day, was the fact that there was once a time when the bullpen, with its only certainty being Chase Wellbrock returning as the closer, was actually a question mark.

Questionable assignment of punctuation aside, the bullpen has become an effective stopping mechanism.

“Everyone’s got their own opinion. But I think we just come out and prove that a little confidence goes a long way,”  said junior reliever Jared Robinson. “It’s just what we do. We rely on each other. If one person struggles a little bit, we have somebody else to pick them up. People doubting the bullpen is just to our advantage.”

Robinson is a transfer from Midland Junior College who calls his best pitch a “knuckle-split finger-changeup thing,” which features an arched middle finger that resembles a dragon’s claw, and he has a straight-ahead, frontline infantry approach to his work.

“It definitely helps when we put up a lot of runs,” Robinson said of the UH offense, which often specializes in scoring during later innings. “But you gotta try and hold them to zero runs anyway, so nothing really changes.”

Closing the door

Wellbrock, who features an intensity that manifests itself in a fairly high leg-kick and a withering, often unblinking glare, is at the back of the bullpen, fulfilling the seasoned veteran trope. Wellbrock, the leader of those who wear windbreakers until needed, echoed Robinson’s sentiment about being an unproven commodity to start the season.

“Right now, we feel great,” Wellbrock said. “It really doesn’t matter what somebody’s opinion is. We know what we’re capable of, we know what we can do and we’ve proven it to this point.”

Wellbrock was quick to sing the praises of the confidence that comes from feeling trusted by the coaching staff as well as the starters, which helps bolster the feeling of trust-based confidence found in the bullpen.

“The coaches know each pitcher’s strengths. They know what they’re capable of and what they’re good at during certain counts,” he said. “Honestly, they put the trust in the pitchers, and that gives the pitchers the confidence to go out there and throw whatever the coach calls and to throw it with purpose and full confidence.”

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