Nation’s best: ‘Double Play Duo’ molds preseason potential into success

The infielder tandem of junior Jack Pineda and sophomore Tre Richardson lead the nation with 51 double plays so far this season. Photo illustration by Brittany Tankersley

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

Before the 2022 season kicked off, the infielder tandem of junior Jack Pineda and sophomore Tre Richardson knew they had potential to be a lethal Double Play Duo. Little did they know — after four twin killings in their 8-2 win over Tarleton State University — they’d lead the nation with 51 double plays so far this season.

This feat comes after ranking toward the bottom of the country last season, as the pair shifted positions and didn’t start hitting its groove until later in the year.

“We really just enjoy playing together and we’ve got the chemistry now to know where each other is going to be and it’s a lot of fun out there,” Pineda said. “One thing that we really didn’t do a good job of last year was turning double plays. About three weeks into the season that was a number that was circled because we were one of the lowest teams in the country as far as double plays.”

Double plays have become the norm for Baylor baseball, but it’s not something the two seek in a game. It just happens and they’ve become quite good at doing it.

“I’d be lying to you if I told you that we go out there and we’re like, ‘We want to lead in double plays,’” Richardson said. “We didn’t really think that at the beginning of the year, it just sort of happened. But we’re both really good middle infielders and the number speaks for itself.”

As a former middle infielder himself, head coach Steve Rodriguez has his expectations teetered to the position differently than others. To Rodriguez, having a pairing like Pineda and Richardson is invaluable, as it’s one of the hardest roles to fill in baseball. The head coach in his seventh season with the Bears (23-22, 5-13 Big 12) sometimes takes for granted what he has up the middle defensively.

“I get to see it every day when we have our defensive drills,” Rodriguez said. “I get so used to it that I probably take advantage of how good they turn that double play and it’s really fortunate for us.”

At third base, senior Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo is someone who sometimes assists in or gets to see the duo turn two, and loves what that brings to the team.

“Oh, it’s so much fun,” Cardoza-Oquendo said. “Whether it’s practice or in a game, seeing those two guys go to work, they put so much time into their craft trying to get better at doing those things. Whenever you get to see it in the game pay off and work the right way, it’s really nice to see.”

Although the season has been rough overall, being atop the nations best in twin killings is a pretty cool thing for the team. Not only are they fun, but they ignite momentum among the bunch, even when things aren’t going their way. When the pairing provides a quick one-two punch, the dugout erupts, sparking a domino effect of positivity.

“Double plays are momentum shifters,” Cardoza-Oquendo said. “Anytime you can get a double play, it kind of puts a little energy through the dugout and into your defense and it kind of carries over into offense. So yeah, we take a lot of pride in being able to turn two.”

Redshirt junior first baseman Chase Wehsener echoed that note. When seemingly everything is going wrong, a simple flip and hurl can bring the team back to life.

“When you’re struggling, not playing well [and the] dugout’s a little dead, those are the things that we can build on and get people going and get that energy that we need to stay successful,” Wehsener said. “We love that [and] the double play is a pitcher’s best friend. As many of those as we can turn we’re going to try and do.”

Fifth-year senior, left-handed pitcher Tyler Thomas agrees that double plays are a pitcher’s best friend. From the mound’s perspective, if there are guys on base, Thomas has “full confidence in Jack and Tre to turn it [and] get them out.”

Not only from that standpoint, but from a veteran one as well, the ace out of Woodway credits the guys having time under their belts and the position switch to their success.

“[They have] a lot of experience,” Thomas said. “You learn from last year. Obviously last year we struggled a little bit, had some errors. They ended up trading places about halfway through the season. But I think now that they’ve settled in, they’ve become comfortable. [They’ve] been there practically a whole year now, it just comes natural.”

The Double Play Duo has a huge impact, that much is clear. The fact that they became such close friends allowed them to be able to read each other more than they could’ve imagined.

“It’s really cool to be able to play with someone of his talent,” Richardson said. “We’re really close off the field now, especially after knowing each other for about a year. Everybody knows we stayed here over the summer, so being that close off the field, it really helps with the chemistry on the field because now I know how far he can go. I know he knows how far I can go and we know each other’s limits.”

As the Bears head into the final stretch of the regular season, it’s safe to expect Pineda and Richardson to keep turning two. As highlighted Tuesday evening, they can even showcase ESPN Top 10-worthy twin killings.

The good friends want to win, and if more twin killings is the recipe for that, then so be it. Regardless of what the team’s fate is, don’t be surprised to turn on your TV and see a highlight-reel play on “SportsCenter.” Despite the glamor and glory, the Double Play Duo just want to help the team in any way they can.

“It’s awesome for us in two ways,” Pineda said. “It’s just fun for one, but I think it gives our pitchers some peace of mind knowing that even if a guy reaches first base, we’re still one pitch away from either getting two outs or getting out of an inning. That does wonders for us just from a team perspective.”