The Norman Transcript

May 16, 2013

Midweek struggles linked to lack of pitching depth

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The outcome Tuesday night at L. Dale Mitchell Park has become familiar — very familiar. Oklahoma suffered another midweek loss. This one, 6-4, to Dallas Baptist was more than just one game in a long season.

Tuesday night’s performance was like a haymaker to the jaw, because the damage could very well cause the Sooners to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.

“I’m getting ready to explain that to them right now,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said when asked if his team fully grasped the repercussions from losing a fourth straight midweek game — all to teams ranked outside of the top 100 in the Ratings Percentage Index.

The loss caused OU to fall to No. 55 heading into its final regular-season series at Kansas State. The three-game set starts Friday. The Sooners would likely be back in the NCAA tournament field if they can win the series against the Wildcats. An OU sweep might even give OU the Big 12 regular-season title.

However, as little as a month ago, OU appeared to be cruising toward hosting an NCAA tournament regional. Now it has to claw its way back into the field.

What happened?

The loss to Dallas Baptist showed a wart that can’t be covered — the lack of a fourth starting pitcher.

Adam Choplick lasted just 2 2-3 innings Tuesday night and was charged with all five runs in the third inning. OU never recovered.

However, it was the fourth straight start where Choplick (3-3) was unable to get to the fourth inning. The same thing happened on April 30 when OU lost 2-0 at Dallas Baptist and when it dropped the first game of a doubleheader sweep to Arkansas-Little Rock on April 16.

It’s a problem teams that host NCAA tournament regionals don’t have. They prove over the course of a season they can win at the top or the bottom of the pitching rotation.

OU showed it cannot.

“Other than Jake Fisher, who has come on lately on the back end, we haven’t done a good job of getting another guy going,” Golloway said. “We’ve done a really poor job of getting another guy going.”

It’s not surprising the last time OU won a midweek game — March 26 — it was greatly aided by a complete-game performance by freshman right-hander Ralph Garza Jr. Garza became a stalwart in the weekend bullpen after the performance. The Sooners needed him there as the set-up guy to get to closer Jacob Evans.

No one, however, stepped up to fill the void during the non-conference games.

The Sooners won’t have to play another midweek game this season. Their pitching staff is at full capacity for the Kansas State series. If they win it, it will put the Sooners back inside the NCAA tournament bubble.

But OU has to play that series with a sense of desperation. The inability to win the midweek games has the season on the brink of collapse.

“That is not typical Oklahoma baseball, but it has become a recurring theme the last two years,” Golloway said. “I’m very concerned about it — very concerned. It’s never happened before, but it has happened now. It’s happening because we’re not developing an extra third and fourth starter — we’re not doing it.”

The next time OU will need a fourth starting pitcher would be if it makes the Big 12 tournament championship game.

Perhaps, something positive will happen to the Sooners since the midweek-game fiascoes are over.

However, games like Tuesday night’s are hard to forget.

“Maybe you trick your mind,” OU shortstop Jack Mayfield said. “That was a tough loss and a tough last home game. We have to keep fighting and try and win that series — sweep that series at K-State.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn