Avenge the fallen: Pitchers stepping up in the absence of ace Bradford

Baylor freshman pitcher Blake Helton throws a pitch against Stephen F. Austin on Tuesday at Baylor Ballpark. Shae Koharski | Multimedia Journalist

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer

The way that Baylor’s baseball season has shaped up, you’d think it was a plot straight out of a movie.

The Bears faced several injuries to begin the season, but the one that packed the biggest punch was the loss of junior lefty Cody Bradford to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, sidelining him for the rest of the year.

Despite getting bitten by the injury bug, Baylor’s pitching staff has proven to be resilient. Redshirt sophomore Jimmy Winston and junior transfer Paul Dickens stepped up from their roles as relievers and into the starting rotation, stringing together strong outings to keep the Bears at the top of the conference.

Head coach Steve Rodriguez said he was “really happy” with the way things have worked out pitching-wise for the Bears.

“I’m really happy with where we are. I know we still have work to do. I know our bullpen has been a huge facet of our pitching staff and how successful that we’ve been. Really happy with what Jimmy [Winston] and Paul [Dickens] have done for us,” Rodriguez said. “Really happy with the development that we’ve had out of those guys and really happy just to see the contribution of a lot of our guys, even though they maybe didn’t expect it at the beginning of the year.”

Winston led the Big 12 in ERA for the first half of conference play and now sports an ERA of 3.15. He has 3-1 record as a starter, with his only loss coming in the opener against Oklahoma. He pitched a season-high seven innings and struck out a season-high five batters in his game two start against Kansas. Entering the rotation as the Saturday guy, Winston was given the Friday spot against Texas and has remained there throughout the last two weekends.

Dickens made his first Saturday start against Nebraska and is currently tied for third in the conference with 69 strikeouts. The lefty has a 3.33 ERA and a 4-1 record. Dickens threw a season-high seven innings in his second start against Cal Poly and struck out a season high 12 batters in game one of the double-header against Jayhawks.

Coming into the season, the state of the bullpen seemed uncertain. Seven of the 11 newcomers to the Bears’ roster were pitchers and five of them were classified as freshmen. But the inexperience was overshadowed by talent.

Freshman righty Blake Helton has put on extended outings in relief against Cal Poly and Texas Southern and had the Sunday starts in the rubber matches against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. The first-year holds a 4.21 ERA and a 2-2 record after a rough loss to the Red Raiders and a shutout three inning performance versus Stephen F. Austin this past week.

Even though the bullpen is young, there are still a handful of veterans that have anchored Baylor throughout the season. Junior lefty Ryan Leckich and junior righty Luke Boyd have become two of the Bears’ go-to guys out of the pen. Leckich has a team-leading 21 appearances and has 1.84 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 29 innings. Boyd, who has 18 outings on the year, holds a 2.30 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 27 innings.

Redshirt sophomores Jacob Ashkinos and Daniel Caruso have also become staples on the mound for Baylor. Both of them came into the year looking to find a role after struggling with injuries in 2018. Caruso has a 2.25 ERA in 28 innings of relief with 23 strikeouts. Ashkinos holds a 3.56 ERA and has made three starts in 16 outings, striking out 28 in 30 innings of work.

Senior closer Kyle Hill has made one of the biggest impacts with an ERA of zero. The Corpus Christi native tossed a season-high 3.1 innings, striking out six in his last appearance against Texas Tech, allowing the Bears to get the extra inning win. Hill is tied with seven other Big 12 pitchers in saves with six.

Dickens said the bullpen has done a great job executing despite the adversity.

“I feel like the pitching staff as a whole has done a phenomenal job, just like guys stepping up that weren’t really supposed to be in the roles that they are,” Dickens said. “But they stepped up and they’ve done a phenomenal job. Guys like Jacob Ashkinos, Daniel Caruso, Luke Boyd, Ryan Leckich. Like all those guys have done a phenomenal job in the bullpen.”

Baylor is heading up to Dickens’s hometown of Fort Worth to face Big 12 rival TCU this weekend as they battle to retake first place in the conference.