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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Takeaways, Notes & Nuggets from Aggies’ weekend series against Kentucky

Photo by Photo by Kevin Chou

No. 17 Texas A&M got a rude awakening in SEC play by getting swept by Kentucky in its first conference series. The Aggies did not play well all weekend, but there were a few bright spots. They still have quite a few question marks, and here are some takeaways from the weekend:
1. Bullpen competition probably reopened after rough weekend
After blowing two late leads two weekends ago in Houston against TCU and Baylor, the bullpen looked like it had turned the corner since then. Corbin Martin turned in a few consecutive effective outings, Cason Sherrod was back on the horse throwing strikes and Landon Miner continued to get hitters out with his elite changeup. Kaylor Chafin was also settling into a long relief role where he was pitching multiple innings at a time with solid efficiency.
This weekend against Kentucky, however, all those positive signs came crashing down. They failed to protect a lead after Stephen Kolek was fantastic on Saturday, an absolute gut punch to a team that could have used a win in that one to avoid a sweep. Martin and Sherrod each gave up two-out, two-run singles after they had two strikes on the hitter. It was a perfect microcosm of their weekend problems — they made some good pitches, but they couldn’t finish off hitters and ultimately couldn’t put enough zeroes on the scoreboard.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” head coach Rob Childress said of the bullpen struggles. “We’ve got some awful talented guys that are trying to figure some things out and having good sequences, good at-bats, but are unable to put together good innings.”
The Aggies have quite a few question marks right now, but solving the bullpen might be the most pressing concern. It would assuage some of the starting pitching issues and might even take some pressure off the offense if the hitters know they can stick to their approach late in games and not have to be superstars to lead A&M to victories.
The thing that is encouraging — but also frustrating — is that the pitchers do have talent. They have electric repertoires and several of the arms can run it up into the mid-90s with their fastballs. They just need to get it figured out and with Rob Childress being one of the best pitching coaches in the country, there should be some confidence that the bullpen improves moving forward.
2. The Aggies need to put a complete game together
Outside of the Texas Tech victory, A&M has struggled to put together a complete game against a good opponent this year. When the starting pitching gives them a great outing, the bullpen can’t hold the lead. When the lineup is productive, the pitching struggles. And when the pitching gets the job done, the hitters can’t muster enough offense.
If they can put it all together — which is easier said than done — this team can easily right the ship. George Janca and Cole Bedford showed signs of life at the bottom of the order for the Aggies in Sunday’s matchup, and Braden Shewmake is going to continue to play at a high level. Austin Homan barreled the ball up at least three times on Saturday and looks like he might turn it around soon, and Walker Pennington has too much talent and experience to continue hitting below the Mendoza Line.
“We have some guys doing some good things,” Childress said. “It’s a matter of putting it all together.”
To make that happen, the seniors are going to have to step up and start playing better. As a group, they have hit a paltry .091 (5-for-51) during the four-game losing streak. Joel Davis, Nick Choruby and Pennington are all mired in prolonged slumps and while Austin Homan has shown significant improvement at the plate, he is still hitting only .197.
Blake Kopetsky has been consistent at the plate and in the field, but if his fellow veterans can’t get it going this team is never going to reach its fullest potential.
3. Finalize a lineup pretty soon
The coaching staff has repeatedly changed up the lineup in hopes of engendering some production, but I think they eventually need to move to a lineup they trust and stick with it. Doing so would allow the players to get more comfortable in their roles and not worry about being replaced or moved down in the order with a couple bad games.
With that said, here’s how I would set the lineup Tuesday against Rice:

  1. CF Nick Choruby
  2. SS Austin Homan
  3. 2B Braden Shewmake
  4. RF Logan Foster
  5. C  Cole Bedford
  6. 1B Blake Kopetsky
  7. LF Walker Pennington
  8. 3B George Janca
  9. DH Cam Blake

Even though Choruby has seen his average plummet in recent weeks, I still like him at the top of the order because of his patient approach and ability to make things happen on the bases with his speed.
For much of the season I’ve given Coleman an advantage over Bedford behind the plate, but Bedford keeps making the most of his opportunities and appears to have a leg up on Coleman now. Davis has had his struggles both at the plate and at first base, so I think it’s time to give him a few days off to rest and refocus. Kopetsky has experience in the infield and practiced at first base in the offseason, so he could slide in there with limited trouble. And then at the bottom of the order, I’d slot in Cam Blake. He has a good approach at the plate and his on-base skills would play well in the nine-hole.
Notes & Nuggets

  • Brigham Hill has had two subpar starts in a row and the Aggies desperately need him back to being an elite ace if they want to turn around their recent skid. He struggled mightily with his fastball command, especially to his glove side. Kentucky crowded the plate against him, and he couldn’t locate his fastball inside against lefties and hit four batters. His changeup was still effective against the Wildcats, so if he can figure out his fastball then I think he will return as a terrific Friday night starter.
  • After Turner Larkins made his season debut last Sunday against Brown, Childress indicated he wanted to stretch Larkins out and let him pitch multiple innings. With Mitchell Kilkenny chased in the second inning Sunday, Larkins got 2.1 innings of work under his belt. He wasn’t as sharp as he was against Brown, but he looked pretty good outside of the understandable rust. Larkins has a special arm, and if he can get back to pitching like he did last year the Aggies will have another option to turn to late in the games. Or he could join the weekend rotation at some point if he shows Childress he can handle it.
  • It was nice to see George Janca get on track this weekend. He had two hits in each of the Aggies’ last two games, including his first career home run Sunday. His homer came on a 3-1 count where he didn’t miss a fastball that caught too much white of the plate. The A&M coaching staff was touting his power before the season, and maybe he is starting to feel more comfortable at the plate and can rebound from a tough start to the season.
  • It will be interesting to see how Childress handles his bullpen in the future. Maybe the bullpen struggles will prompt him to ride his starters a little longer if they are doing well. He admitted after Saturday’s loss that he might have been better off leaving Kolek in the game longer than he did, and he might do just that as the season progresses.
  • All in all, it was undoubtedly a rough weekend for the Aggies. It is never a good thing to get swept, but I think Kentucky was better than expected. It doesn’t get any easier anytime soon for A&M — road series against LSU and Vanderbilt are looming — and the Aggies will look to turn the tide Tuesday against Rice.
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