Pitchers need to take hold of starting opportunities
Juniors Aaron Fletcher and Trey Cumbie have been drafted by the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively, which could leave a big hole in Houston’s pitching rotation.
With the two aces potentially moving on to the minors and top relievers Kyle Ott and Joey Pulido graduating, Houston will need the rest of the pitchers to step up.
Cumbie and Fletcher have until July 15 to either sign with the team that drafted them or return to college.
If they choose to leave, UH will lose four pitchers who threw almost half of the innings played this season. It will be the biggest turnover since eight pitchers who threw for 57.5 percent of innings left after the 2015 season.
After the 2015 departures, the 2016 Cougars struggled to find consistency and failed to make it to the NCAA tournament. That was the only time in the last five years that Houston did not make it to the NCAA tournament, something they certainly want to avoid happening again.
This time around, there are multiple relievers that could take a starting spot and keep Houston in contention.
One of the first candidates to start has to be junior Carter Henry. Henry improved by leaps and bounds, going from a 5.58 ERA in 40.1 innings pitched in 2017 to a 2.09 ERA in 47.1 innings in 2018.
Though the jump from reliever to starter can be taxing, Fletcher pulled it off this season. Fletcher was Houston’s best reliever in 2017 and transformed into the top starter with an offseason of hard work.
Sophomore Clayton Aguilar was a bright spot among the freshmen tabbed to pitch during the season. Aguilar threw just 14 innings but earned 17 strikeouts and a 1.23 ERA.
Despite the short amount of play, Aguilar could earn a top reliever or even a starting spot during the offseason.
Junior Brayson Hurdsman and senior Ryan Randel both started this season but could perform consistently to take firm hold of the third starting spot. The two players will be relied on even more next season and need to improve to help the Cougars make it back to the top of the conference.
Another duo that could fill the holes is junior Fred Villarreal and senior Nolan Bond. Both relievers have ERAs over four but were often used as mid-game relievers in already tough situations. After Carter, Ott and Pulido, these two were Houston’s most-used relievers and have a lot of experience under their belts.
No matter what happens, patience is needed from fans and critics. Houston’s run of form over the last five years has been historic, and the team has earned a lot of trust in the ability of the players to work hard, develop and compete at a high level.