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4 Takeaways + Notes & Nuggets from Texas A&M’s 11-10 loss to TCU

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Photo by Photo by: C. Morgan Engel

Sophomore pitcher Stephen Kolek pitched 8 innings Sunday against Auburn, allowing five hits and one run. 

1. Colossal collapse by the A&M bullpen, but masterful effort by Kaylor Chafin
When you bring your closer in to start the ninth inning with a five-run lead, you should be nearly guaranteed to walk away with a victory. That was not the case for the Aggies on Saturday, however, as their bullpen managed to give up five runs in the bottom of the ninth courtesy of only one TCU hit. Cason Sherrod began the inning by walking three batters, Kyle Richardson relieved him and promptly walked two more. Then Kaylor Chafin came in and ultimately struck out three but allowed two hits to tie the game in the process.
“[Sherrod’s] thrown the ball over the plate for us all season long and just didn’t tonight,” head coach Rob Childress said after the game. “The next guy we went to didn’t [throw strikes], and they got a big hit in that inning as well to tie the game.”
Chafin, though, proceeded to turn in one of the more gritty relief outings you’ll see. Pitching on only two days of rest after starting the Aggies’ Wednesday game against Incarnate Word, Chafin tossed 6.1 scoreless innings. He worked out of multiple jams — including a bases-loaded, no-out Houdini act in the 12th where the Aggies brought in Nick Choruby from the outfield to give them five infielders — and made a highlight-reel catch on a sharp comebacker. In all, he threw 83 pitches and kept the Aggies in the game even when they weren’t scoring any runs for him.
“I was just trusting Coach Childress,” Chafin said of his success. “Every pitch that was called, I was just doing what I do. Throw strikes and trust it.”
Could he be a frontrunner for the closer role moving forward? Who knows after this one?
“He’s had an amazing week for us,” Childress said of Chafin. “It puts him in the mix to be an important part of our staff whether he’s starting, coming out of the bullpen, finishing games — he’s been pretty special for us this entire year.”
2. Bats fell silent down the stretch
After jumping out to an early 5-0 lead in the first half-inning of play, the Aggies weren’t all that productive for the remainder of the game. They tacked on insurance runs in the seventh and ninth innings, but it wasn’t enough and then, after TCU tied the game in the 9th, A&M could not muster any offense.
They struck out a whopping 26 times on the night — eight of those looking — and could only manage one baserunner in extra innings. Sean Wymer threw five perfect innings out of the ‘pen, racking up nine strikeouts, Trey Morris struck out six in 2.1 innings and Jake Eissler struck out eight in 4.1 innings.
“I think we started getting away from our approach,” first baseman Joel Davis said. “We tried to play a little bit of hero ball instead of sticking with the approach that got us the 10 runs in the first place.”
On two different occasions, a TCU pitcher struck out eight of nine Aggie hitters. The Horned Frogs’ young arms commanded their fastballs and threw multiple offspeed pitches for strikes, which is always a tough combination to hit for any offense.
3. Kolek solid again, even against a top-tier lineup
It wasn’t always pretty and he had to work out of several jams, but he constantly limited the damage and kept putting zeroes on the scoreboard. He was removed after four innings of one-run ball, striking out six, and the only run he gave up was on a quality pitch down in the zone that Luken Baker punched to right field for a two-out RBI single.
Kolek’s biggest pitch of the game came in the third inning. With one out and Baker again at the plate with a full count, the Aggies executed a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out to end the frame.
Then in the fourth with two runners on base, Walker Pennington made an outstanding leaping catch at the warning track in left field to save two runs and quell the Frogs’ threat.
Childress went to his bullpen with Kolek’s pitch count at 83, and then, as mentioned previously, the bullpen could not hold the lead. Overall a gritty effort for Kolek and a start that, although he didn’t work as deep into the game as he hoped, should give the Aggies plenty of confidence in their Saturday starter as the season progresses.
4. Heartbreaking defeat, but it’s only one March loss
If you told the Aggies before the game they would lose to top-ranked TCU by one run on a walk-off hit in the last inning, they probably wouldn’t have been too mad. So even though they didn’t play very well late in the game and the fashion in which they lost was demoralizing, A&M can’t put too much emphasis on this one game. Even if it was against their rival Horned Frogs.
“It’s just one game, this doesn’t define our season,” Davis said. “We learned a lot about our team from this game, so we’ll get back out there tomorrow. It’s one game.”
Said Childress: “We’ve got to put this one behind us. We’re going to have some heartbreaking losses throughout the year and we’ve got to be able to come out the next day and focus on what we have to do.”
Additional notes and nuggets

  • John Doxakis continues to impress me. The hard-throwing freshman southpaw gave up two earned runs in 2.2 innings of relief, but the runs were more a product of sloppy defense by the Aggies than bad pitching. I think Dox will continue to be a vital piece of A&M’s weekend bullpen as well as the Aggies’ first option to start midweek games.
  • Pennington showed signs of getting right at the plate against the Horned Frogs. The San Jacinto JC product and former Horned Frog has gotten off to a slow start in his senior season, but he barreled a few balls up tonight and looked comfortable in the batter’s box. He blasted a 3-run homer in the first inning, made an acrobatic inning-ending catch in left field and also worked two walks. His average still sits at a disappointing .208, but maybe this performance will give him a spark with SEC play fast approaching.
  • Finally a clean outing from Corbin Martin. The junior righty’s electric stuff is no secret, but it was the first time all season that he pitched without getting into a major jam or allowing a run. He entered the game with a runner on third and two outs, and he promptly struck out Cam Warner to end the seventh. Then he pitched around a one-out walk for a scoreless eighth. Martin showed much better command, threw all of his pitches for strikes and did a superb job bridging the gap from the middle innings to the ninth — even if it didn’t work out in the end. Childress said after the game that he regretted pulling Martin so soon, but if Martin can live up to the potential he generated in the offseason he will be an invaluable asset to Childress out of the bullpen.
  • While Davis has flourished at the plate of late — hitting .500 (10-for-29) with eight RBI, 10 runs scored and six extra-base hits in his last four games — he remains a bit of a liability defensively at first base. On two occasions he let balls go by that weren’t errors on him but were plays that an SEC first baseman has to make. He has not yet mastered the art of scooping balls in the dirt, so at the very least he needs to come off the bag and block the ball with his body to keep it on the dirt and keep the baserunners from advancing another base.
  • Another big game for Hunter Coleman behind the plate. Not only did he drive in four runs with the stick, he also played well on defense. Catching Wade stealing on the strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out was one of the biggest plays of the game, and he also threw out Evan Barzilli on a third strike that got past him to the backstop to end the seventh. His two-run double in the ninth seemed huge at the time because it gave the Aggies a 10-5 cushion that should have been enough for the bullpen to protect. Even though they couldn’t, it was still a promising sign to see the freshman come through in a big situation like that.
  • The struggles continue for Austin Homan. The senior shortstop went 1-for-7 with an unsightly five strikeouts. He and third baseman George Janca combined to go 1-for-12 at the plate, and both are now hitting below the Mendoza Line for the season.
  • Jorge Gutierrez entered the game for Janca in the 10th after Janca couldn’t corral what was a potential game-ending grounder. Gutierrez struck out in his only at-bat of the game, but he has swung a hot bat for a good part of this young season and it will be interesting to see if Childress continues to try to find the freshman utility player at-bats. If so, second base and the hot corner seem like the most likely options. The coaching staff can either give Homan a few games off, move Shewmake to short and put Gutierrez as second, or they could bench Janca and insert Gutierrez in at third base. 
  • There were just some things that are hard to wrap your mind around in this one. How does a team knock the opposing team’s starting pitcher out of the game in the first inning and then have their bullpen outpitched in a 15-inning marathon? Also, Texas A&M’s hitters struck out 26 times and its pitchers issued 14 walks. It’s never a good combination to give up so many free bases and fail to put the ball in play at such a high clip, but that’s exactly what the Ags did against TCU.
  • Finally, I think Childress has to figure some things out with his bullpen going forward. There are certainly some major question marks. If he can’t trust Sherrod or Martin to close games, who does that leave? Yanking Jason Ruffcorn from the ballgame in the 15th after facing one batter proves he doesn’t trust the freshman righty. I doubt he trusts Kyle Richardson much after he walked both Horned Frogs he faced. Chafin was obviously a bright spot, and Landon Miner has been stellar to this point, but I don’t think A&M can rely on those two to shoulder the burden of the relief innings. Childress is one of the best pitching coaches in the business so if there’s anyone who can figure it out, it’s him, but it might be the most interesting area of this team to keep an eye on moving forward.  
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