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T'S ALL IN THE ARMS: Pitching Staff Has to Carry Bears Through Big 12

May 21, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

At times this season, Baylor pitching coach Trevor Mote has had to feel like he's putting a bandage on a gun-shot wound or trying to fill five holes in the dike with one finger.

Injuries to weekend starters Brad Kuntz and Austin Stone, as well as relievers Ryan Smith and Kyle Ott, has made Mote and head coach Steve Smith turn to a kiddie corps of freshmen Daniel Castano (5-4, 3.63), Drew Tolson (3-5, 5.18) and Nick Lewis (2-2, 5.76).

"What we've been able to do the last month, just holding our head above water with the loss of Brad and Austin, I think the guys have done a good job," Mote said. "And we've had some guys out of the bullpen that didn't have a lot of innings early on, and now all of a sudden they've got roles and they've done a good job with that. Hopefully with Castano and Tolson, we can get the starting pitching we need and turn the ball over to (Josh) Michalec and (Doug) Ashby when we get a chance to do that."

At 24-29 overall and seeded seventh for the Big 12 Championship, the Bears have to win the five-day tournament to earn an NCAA regional bid. And they have to do it with a team that's painfully short on arms, especially ones with any postseason experience.

"We're going to have to get some innings out of those guys," said senior right-hander Dillon Newman (5-3, 3.42 ERA), who will get the start for Wednesday's 12:30 p.m. tournament opener against 13th-ranked TCU (38-15), opposed by right-hander Jordan Kipper (7-2, 3.36). "In this tournament, you definitely need pitching. Everybody is going to have to step up and do their part and just gets the outs when we need them."

After Newman, things get a little shaky. For the Bears to have any chance at advancing to Sunday's 4:30 p.m. championship game at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, Okla., they will have to get quality starts from Castano and Tolson and help along the way from Lewis, who just made his first Big 12 start on Saturday against the Horned Frogs.

"It's going to take the starting pitching to go deep every game and do really well," Smith said. "You only need four. If you don't lose, then you've just got to win four games."

When Stone went down with a shoulder injury last month, Castano was re-cast from mid-week starter to the end of the weekend rotation and was masterful in a 3-1 road victory over Kansas State. But since then, he's lost three in a row and given up 13 earned runs in 14.1 innings.

A redshirt freshman, Tolson made the same transition three weeks ago after Kuntz went down for the count with a season-ending back injury. He came through with a solid six-inning outing in his first Big 12 start and clinched the series at Oklahoma with a 10-5 win.

"If you look at his games inning by inning, (Tolson) is one of those guys that maybe doesn't start real strong," Mote said. "But when he gets to that fourth or fifth inning, man, his stuff gets going. He showed that at OU in tough conditions. And at other times, he's really thrown the ball well."

Since Tolson didn't go against TCU after beating UTSA last Tuesday, Smith even considered giving him the start on Wednesday. "But in the event that we can get to Sunday, who do you want back with any innings left? And I think its Dillon."

As late as Monday, Smith said he was still "bandying that around a bit," the idea of starting Tolson against the Horned Frogs because of the matchup.

"I think TCU, offensively, is similar to OU in that they like to swing," Smith said. "But then when they get to two strikes, they do a really good job of cutting it down and putting the ball in play. And that was OU. And if you remember, when Tolson threw against OU, he had two innings at the beginning where he hadn't figured it out. He finally figured it out, and the next four were really good. So, I think he could do it."

Lewis, who had made his only previous start in a mid-week game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on April 30, was thrown into the mix on Saturday against TCU. He responded with a career-high 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs (only one earned) on five hits and no walks with two strikeouts.

"I felt pretty comfortable out there," he said. "I made a mistake the first inning, (gave up the) home run. But I brushed it off and kept going and just tried to pound the zone and let my defense work and got some ground balls and got through the fourth."

Smith took him out of the game when Lewis gave up a two-out triple to Cody Jones on his 61st pitch of the night, with left fielder Darryn Sheppard unable to make a diving catch.

"My pitch count was getting up there a little bit. I haven't thrown that many pitches in an outing, and I started to hit a little bit of a wall around the third or fourth," Lewis said. "I still felt good; I would have been fine staying out there. But I was fine coming out and giving other people some reps, because we're going to need everyone we've got this week."

The silver lining in the rash of injuries is getting "a lot of innings out of those freshman this year. So, that's promising," Mote said.

"If you look back at the season, there was a month where (Lewis) didn't throw," Mote said. "And now all of a sudden, you look up and he's got 30 innings and has just really progressed."

Even though Lewis took the loss in Saturday's rubber match against TCU, Smith said it built up the freshman's confidence "so that if we need to use him in an extended role or as a starter, that we can be confident we can do it relatively safely."

"The positive thing he did the other day that will be huge in a tournament is the fact that he threw strikes," Smith said. "He didn't walk anybody. And that's what kills you in a deal like this. If you get somebody out there that doesn't throw strikes, now you're to the next guy."

With a sub-.500 record, the only way the Bears can get into an NCAA regional is by earning the automatic qualifying spot as the Big 12 champion.

"Honestly, what have we got to lose," Smith said.

Newman, who beat the Horned Frogs six days ago in the series opener, would "like to say that we can go out there and play relaxed, but everybody knows what we need to do. And there is very little room for error. As long as hitters go out there and score a couple of runs, and the pitchers hold it down on the mound, I think we should be fine."

The Baylor-TCU winner advances to a winner's bracket game at 4 p.m. Thursday against the winner of a 9 a.m. game between third-seeded Kansas and No. 6 seed West Virginia, while the losers play in the first elimination game of the double-elimination tournament at 9 a.m.

"It puts us in the mindset of win or go home," said junior outfielder Adam Toth. "We've got to win to make the (NCAA) tournament, and that's big deal. That's our goal. We've got to win the Big 12 tournament."

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