By Max Calderone | Sports Writer
With a little less than half of the 2018 season remaining, the Baylor baseball team is hoping to find its stride in order to make a run at the postseason.
The Bears will begin a seven-game road trip this weekend in Austin, facing off against Texas in a three-game series.
“They’ve got a good lineup, they’ve got some power. They’re a good club with good players up and down the lineup,” said sophomore right-handed pitcher Hayden Kettler.
Kettler (3-2, 2.93) will get the ball in Friday night’s series opener with sophomore lefty Cody Bradford‘s health still in question. Kettler said nothing changes in his approach, even with a shorter week to prepare for a start.
“I see it as an opportunity, really,” Kettler said. “I’m excited, I’ve been looking forward to this. This is every pitcher’s dream to get a start on Friday night. This is something I’ve been working hard for and I think I’m ready.”
He’ll have to deal with one of the best power hitters in the Big 12 in junior infielder Kody Clemens. The son of former Major League pitcher Roger Clemens, Kody has hit eight home runs this season while driving in 30 and posting a .357 batting average.
Head coach Steve Rodriguez said the gameplan will be no different with Clemens at the plate.
“I think you throw strikes to everybody,” Rodriguez said. “Clemens is a very good hitter, obviously, but just like everybody else, he can be gotten out. Our job is to make sure we find those holes, keep him off balance and make good pitches.”
The remainder of the Bears’ weekend rotation has yet to be announced. Bradford (3-2, 2.95) has been dealing with a groin injury suffered last week during a practice, but Rodriguez said he has a positive outlook that Bradford will pitch this weekend.
“We’re hoping to have him pitch for us either Saturday or Sunday, which day we don’t really know,” Rodriguez said. “We’re hoping that he’s going to be feeling better the more days that elapse.”
Regardless of who will be starting on the mound, the Baylor bullpen has been excellent, with strong contributions from players like junior righty Kyle Hill (3-1, 2.61), sophomore left-hander Ryan Leckich (2-1, 3.98) and freshman lefty Tyler Thomas (0-2, 2.95).
Rodriguez said he has been impressed with the way those guys have stepped up and provided quality innings for the Bears.
“I think they have done everything we’ve asked them to do. They compete,” Rodriguez said. “I really like what we’ve seen out of them. They understand the circumstances we’re in with some of our starters being hurt and they have not batted an eye.”
However, the offense is still searching for a continued rhythm. Sophomore catcher Shea Langeliers has yet to see a rise in his .241 batting average and just one Bears player – sophomore first baseman Andy Thomas – enters the weekend above .300 (Thomas .363).
Freshman utility man Nick Loftin has bounced around defensively in left field and at shortstop, but has found a home as the new Baylor leadoff hitter. He said he has confidence that the rest of the lineup can find its groove and perform well against the Longhorns.
“We’re a really good hitting ball club and we’ve proved that many times, it’s just that we need to get hot,” Loftin said.
Rodriguez said the lineup has put itself in good position to score and win ballgames lately, but that the big hits, specifically with two outs, just haven’t come.
“Sometimes it’s just timing, but sometimes it’s just baseball,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes it’s just kids getting repetitions. Sometimes you hit a ball hard and it’s right at people. It just happens and it’s unfortunate.”
Game one between Baylor and Texas is set for 6:30 p.m. tonight, with games two and three starting at 4 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. The Bears will continue on to Sam Houston State next Tuesday before another road series at Memphis on April 13-15.