The Norman Transcript

Sports

April 11, 2014

Garza’s reputation grows as a dominant closing pitcher

NORMAN — There’s one scenario Oklahoma would love to play out three times over the next three days. If the Sooners could have Ralph Garza Jr. on the mound for the ninth inning in all three games, they would be ecstatic.

“There’s an aura around him that when he gets out there it’s three outs and the game is over,” said OU’s Mac James who has caught some of those ninth innings with Garza on the mound. “I think other teams are starting to think that, too.”

Really good closers bring that kind of intimidation aspect to the mound. OU (23-11, 4-2 Big 12) would love to have it when it opens a three-game series with Texas (26-8, 6-3) at 6 p.m. today at L. Dale Mitchell Park.

For OU, the bullpen has been a calming influence on a young team. Starting pitching has been up and down. Defense has been shaky. Offense has been feast or famine.

The relief pitching, however, has smothered rallies and held leads all season using a combination of left-handers and right-handers. The moves change from game to game. But they’re all designed to get to the last one — Garza.

“I trust that kid like I’ve trusted very few guys at the back end of a game,” OU coach Pete Hughes said. “We’re making all our moves knowing that he’s at the back end of the game … We’re basically designing the game to get the ball to Ralph.”

Usually, it takes several seasons to build that kind of trust with a coaching staff. Garza has done it in less than three months.

It’s hard not to feel good about a guy who sports a 0.71 ERA, 4-0 record and seven saves in 20 appearances.

But Garza had no intention of turning into a dominant closer. As a freshman, he did a bit of everything last season. The right-hander went 5-1 with a 2.76 ERA. One of those starts was a complete-game victory over Oral Roberts .

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