The Norman Transcript

April 15, 2014

OU skipper looking for more firepower in the lineup

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — What Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes did following the two-hour rain delay against Texas was telling. It didn’t pay off in the Sooners’ 8-1 loss that secured a series sweep for the Longhorns. But it declared where the Sooners are and that some changes needed to be made.

He moved freshman third baseman Sheldon Neuse to shortstop for the last five innings. Outfielder Mac James went from the outfield to third base. Taylor Alspaugh came off the bench and moved to the outfield with second baseman Keach Ballard going to the bench.

“If we’re going to play as bad as we’ve been playing defensively, then we’re going to put some bats in the lineup,” Hughes said afterwards.

Becoming as offensive as possible may be the Sooners’ only route to the NCAA tournament.

What the series exhibited was an enormous gap between the Sooners and Longhorns in two critical areas: starting pitching and defense.

Texas’ starting pitchers went 212⁄3 innings in the series with Sunday starter Nathan Thornhill, tossing a complete-game five hitter.

OU’s starters went just 92⁄3 innings with Friday starter Corey Copping lasting just 2⁄3 of an inning.

The Sooners’ strength all season has been their bullpen, but that’s just too much stress to put on a pitching staff.

Oddly enough Texas committed five errors in the series and still greatly outplayed the Sooners in that area. Those errors were offset by some tremendous defensive plays that snuffed out rallies and prevented OU from building any offensive momentum.

The errors have been OU’s Achilles heel all season. The three it committed over the weekend ran the season total to 59. The .959 fielding percentage ranks No. 220 in the country — out of 296 teams.

OU certainly had worse defensive series this season. However, beating good teams — which Texas has proven it is once again — doesn’t have much margin for error.

Hughes has spent all season sacrificing a little offense in the lineup to get some better defenders on the field. The defense has still been an issue.

The time has come to bolster the offense. Outside of the eight runs OU scored in Friday’s 10-8 loss in 10 innings, they hardly scored against Texas. That falls right in with a nearly month-long stretch where it's been inept at the plate. Sunday’s one-run effort marked the ninth time in the last 11 games OU has failed to score more than four runs.

One of those games was 3-1 non-conference loss to Oklahoma State on April 1. The Sooners (23-14) face the Cowboys (26-10) again at 6:30 p.m. today at Allie Reynolds Stadium in Stillwater.

Once again, the game doesn’t count in the Big 12 standings, but it’s a chance for OU to build some momentum.

Runs are about the only thing that can do it.

“We have to do something to energize this lineup and this program. It might have to come from the offensive end,” Hughes said.

After 37 games, it’s hard to believe starting pitching and defense are going to turn around. Doing something to energize the lineup seems like the last resort.

OU’s season is by no means over. There are a lot of games. It can still do enough to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The Big 12 race is by no means over.

“We still have a chance to make a run late in the year,” OU center fielder Craig Aikin said.

The Sooners must change their course. Hughes knew it Sunday afternoon. The Texas series showed where OU is at isn’t good enough.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.