Missions’ bullpen solid in early going of new season

Sometimes, it seems that a minor league baseball team is only as good as its bullpen.

It might be hard to argue about such a theory with the Missions, who roll into Midland today on a three-game winning streak, highlighted by another streak — 14 consecutive scoreless innings by relief pitchers.

The Missions’ bullpen hasn’t been charged with a run since the eighth inning last Friday night, in Game 4 of a six-game road series against the Corpus Christi Hooks.

The run scored when C.J. Stubbs singled to drive in Marty Costes against Missions lefthander Tom Cosgrove. Since then, the Missions’ pen has worked 14 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and five walks over that span.

After falling behind 5-1 in the series finale Sunday afternoon, manager Phillip Wellman and pitching coach Pete Zamora called on left-hander Jerry Keel and righty Jose Quezada to put out the fire.

Keel struck out four in four innings to get the win and Quezada closed in the ninth for his first save to nail down a 7-5 victory.

In six games to start the season, the bullpen hasn’t been invincible. It has given up three home runs. But, for the most part, it’s been very reliable with a 3-1 record, a save and a 2.32 earned run average. Not to mention a 1.00 WHIP.

Individuals standing out from a statistical standpoint include five players who have yet to allow an earned run — Fred Schlichtolz, Quezada, James Reeves, Carlos Belen and Pedro Avila.

Notable

After a day off Monday, the San Diego Padres-affiliated Missions (4-2) will play the Rockhounds (2-4) in the opener of a six-game series tonight in Midland. The Rockhounds are affiliated with the Oakland A’s. The Missions return for their home opener on May 18 against the Texas Rangers-affliated Frisco RoughRiders.

Zubia, Williams power No. 8 Texas past third-ranked TCU, 9-3

TCU fans showed up at Lupton Stadium Sunday hoping to see their team deliver a knockout blow to the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 regular-season title race.

They left unfulfilled as the Longhorns romped to a 9-3 victory to win the series, two games to one. Jumping out to a 9-0 lead, Texas pulled to within one game of first-place TCU.

Zach Zubia smashed two home runs and Cam Williams added another in a 12-hit attack as Texas silenced the TCU faithful and kept Texas’ championship hopes alive, with one series remaining for each squad before the Big 12 tournament.

Regardless of what happens in the race, Texas left-handed pitcher Pete Hansen sent a message that he is primed for the postseason.

Hansen (6-1) pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits while striking out four in a game that carried NCAA playoff implications.

Backed into a corner after losing 2-1 to TCU on Saturday, Texas played as well in a big-game road atmosphere as is has all season, likely bolstering its hopes for a top-eight national tournament seed.

Records

Texas 15-6, 38-12
TCU 16-5, 34-12

Coming up

Texas plays a couple of non-conference games before closing out Big 12 play May 20-22 with three at home against West Virginia (17-23, 7-14).

TCU will be much busier in coming days. The Frogs play five non-conference home games between now and March 18. They also finish conference May 20-22 but they will be on the road at Kansas State (28-18, 7-11).

UTSA takes two against 19th-ranked Old Dominion

UTSA celebrates after Griffin Paxton (22) hit a three-run homer in the first inning to give the Roadrunners an 8-3 lead over Old Dominion. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA celebrates after Griffin Paxton (22) hits a three-run homer in the first inning of Saturday’s first game. – photo by Joe Alexander

The UTSA baseball team probably hasn’t swept many, if any, doubleheaders from nationally-ranked teams in their three-decade history. Until Saturday afternoon, that is.

The Roadrunners took two seven-inning games at home from the 19th-ranked Old Dominion Monarchs, winning 12-10 and then 11-0.

If the sweep wasn’t surprise enough, the second game was something of a shocker in that a usually inconsistent UTSA pitching staff stepped up to toss a two-hit shutout.

UTSA’s Chase Keng (4), Joshua Lamb (2) and Shea Gutierrez (3) all scored in the first inning on a triple by Leyton Barry (top), who slides into third. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA’s Chase Keng (4), Joshua Lamb (2) and Shea Gutierrez (3) all scored in the first inning of the first game on a triple by Leyton Barry (top), who slides into third. – photo by Joe Alexander

The trio of Jacob Jimenez, Grant Miller and Hunter Mason pulled it off against one of the best offenses in Conference USA. Combined, Jimenez, Miller and Mason struck out 12 and walked two.

The Monarchs were held hitless until two out in the sixth when Carter Trice hit a double off Mason.

All day, the UTSA hitting attack was strong.

In the opener, the Roadrunners smashed out 14 hits, including home runs from Griffin Paxton and Dylan Rock. In the second game, they kept it rolling with 13 hits, with homers coming from Paxton again, Nick Thornquist and Chase Keng.

Records

UTSA 13-13, 21-20
Old Dominion 18-8, 32-12

Coming up

Old Dominion at UTSA, Sunday, 1 p.m. (No general public tickets)

UTSA celebrates after Dylan Rock (27) homered to score his second run of the first inning and give the Roadrunners a 9-3 lead over Old Dominion. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA celebrates after Dylan Rock (27) homered to score his second run of the first inning and give the Roadrunners a 9-3 lead over Old Dominion. – photo by Joe Alexander

Former Flying Chanclas spark TCU’s 2-1 victory over Texas

Two former Flying Chanclas de San Antonio were flying high in Fort Worth on Saturday afternoon.

With Porter Brown producing a two-RBI single and left-hander Austin Krob surviving some shaky moments to emerge as the winning pitcher, the third-ranked TCU Horned Frogs protected their lead in the Big 12 baseball race with a 2-1 victory over the Texas Longhorns.

Both Brown and Krob played in San Antonio last summer with the Flying Chanclas, a first-time entry in the wood-bat Texas Collegiate League.

Playing on a bigger stage Saturday, both helped lift the Frogs one step closer to a conference regular-season championship.

In the second inning, Brown hit a two-out single up the middle off Texas starter Tristan Stevens to score Tommy Sacco and Elijah Nunez.

Brown is a redshirt freshman from Reagan High School. He finished 2 for 4 at the plate to increase his batting average to .359. He also hiked his RBI total to 17 in 25 games played.

Krob, a sophomore from Lisbon, Iowa, ran his win-loss record to 7-0. He worked 5 and 2/3 innings and allowed one run on six hits. Krob walked four and struck out three.

Marcelo Perez and Haylen Green each pitched 1 and 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to nail down the victory.

If the Longhorns come up short in the title race, they may look back on three base-running issues in Saturday’s game, one in each of the first three innings.

In the first, Zach Zubia was thrown out by a wide margin as he tried to go first-to-third on a single to right field. In the second inning, Cam Williams was on third base and strayed too far off the bag on a chopper back to the mound. He was caught in a run-down and tagged out.

In the third, Texas had a rally going and scored its only run of the game on a play that started with Texas runners on first and second and a fly ball to center. It ended on an error, an errant throw that came in from Nunez in center and allowed Mike Antico to race all the way around from second to score.

But on the next play, the Longhorns helped kill the rally when Mitchell Daly was caught in a run-down between second and third base.

Records

TCU 34-11, 16-4
Texas 37-12, 14-6

Notable

Marcelo Perez, from Laredo, was also a member of the Flying Chanclas last summer. On Saturday, he allowed one hit and no runs in 1 and 2/3 innings. A big moment came in the sixth when he struck out Texas’ Trey Faltine to end the inning with two runners on base. Both Krob and Perez worked under Flying Chanclas pitching coach Calvin Schiraldi, a former star at Texas in the early 1980s.

Brown sat out most of last summer’s games with an injury. Nevertheless, he had drawn the praise of manager John McLaren after getting off to a hot start as a hitter. Brown has spent some time on the bench with the talented Horned Frogs this season, including Friday’s series opener against Texas.

Out of TCU’s 44 games, he has played in 25, with 16 starts. But when he has played, he has produced, driving in 17 runs and hitting for a .359 batting average.

First-place TCU aims to bounce back against Texas today

TCU fans delivered in a big way Friday night at Lupton Stadium in the opener of a Big 12 series between the third-ranked Horned Frogs and the No. 8 Texas Longhorns.

They were on their feet in the late innings, slapping their hands on empty seats (there weren’t many) and generally giving the Longhorns the business.

Texas responded by holding on for a 5-4 victory to stay within striking distance of the first-place Horned Frogs in the conference’s regular-season title race.

The Longhorns can move into a tie for first in the Big 12 with a victory in Game 2 of the series today in Fort Worth. Scheduled pitchers are Tristan Stevens for Texas against TCU left-hander Austin Krob, who played for the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio last summer.

A third game is set for Sunday at 1 p.m.

After the Longhorns built a 4-2 lead after five and a half innings, the Horned Frogs responded with single runs in the sixth and seventh to tie it.

That’s when the Texas bullpen took charge. Tanner Witt (two innings) and Aaron Nixon (one) pitched shutout ball the rest of the way. Nixon closed the door with two TCU runners on base and with the fans howling.

He threw a wild pitch, allowing Brayden Taylor to advance to third and Zach Humphreys to second. But from there, Nixon started throwing nasty sliders to end the game, striking out TCU star Phillip Sikes and getting Gray Rodgers on a fly ball to left.

Records

TCU 15-4, 33-11
Texas 14-5, 37-11

Unveiling the ‘All Messy-Garage’ team in college baseball

In some ways, my infatuation with college baseball on ESPN Plus this spring is sort of a sad statement on my social life. In other ways, watching so many games on the network’s alternate channel for live event coverage has really opened my eyes to some great, young talent.

In that regard, I wanted to convey a few thoughts on some the most entertaining players I’ve seen this year. You can just say these are the guys to blame for a certain garage that has needed cleaning for months and yet remains a mess as we, er, speak.

Christian Franklin, Arkansas

Franklin, a junior for the No. 1-ranked Razorbacks, plays center field. He is one of those guys that you see in a game and wonder how much money he could possibly earn over the course of his impending pro career. Quite a bit, I’d say. I’ve seen the man make some remarkable catches in the outfield. He also hits a home about every other time I watch the Razorbacks. Right now, he hits .302, has an on-base percentage of .435, and he slugs .586. About the only negative I can find on the stat sheet are 45 strikeouts in 152 at bats. Most impressive thing you see when crunching numbers on Franklin? He hasn’t made an error in 84 chances.

Ivan Melendez, Texas

Melendez’s recent streak of six games with a home run (seven in all) was really something. I didn’t see the first three games in his run, but if memory serves, I picked it up on the fourth, and watched as the big man from El Paso cranked some shots far into the night sky in Austin. I watched one of his homers sail over the green batters’ eye above the center field wall at UT’s UFCU Disch-Falk Field. Not sure about his all-around ability, as he’s used mostly as a DH. Also, Melendez has cooled off a bit since his streak. But he remains as a threat to batter scoreboards anywhere he plays. Honorable mention when I watch Texas? Second sacker Mitchell Daly, a freshman who turns the double play as well as he hits for average (.348).

Enrique Bradfield, Jr., Vanderbilt

Bradfield comes to mind, because early in the season, I’d always flip the channel to the Vanderbilt game to watch either Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter. And then, invariably, I ended up being transfixed by something remarkable that Bradford did. Either in the outfield or on the base paths. The key to his game is speed. Reportedly, he runs the 60-yard dash in 6.26 seconds. On top of that, he uses it wisely, as his NCAA Division I-leading 34 stolen bases in 36 attempts suggests. It’s also fun to watch him play the field, where he will start to track a fly ball you think he has no chance to get, and then he comes up with a diving catch. With a .342 batting average, he doesn’t seem intimidated in the least by SEC pitching.

Phillip Sikes, TCU

The well-traveled Mr. Sikes hails from Paris, Texas. His career path in college baseball — from New Mexico to Pima Community College and then to TCU — would suggest journeyman qualities as a player. His facial features suggest he might be more ready for a Pony League all-star game than a weekend showdown with the Longhorns. If you think he’s lacking, though, you’re wrong. Sikes is batting a team-leading .377 with a 1.188 OPS for a team that leads the Big 12 standings. Early on, I liked to turn the channel to find the TCU game to watch Luke Boyers, the kid from Boerne, who is having an excellent season. But Sikes just continues to hit. If Texas has any hope of beating TCU a couple of times this weekend, they need to keep the baby-faced East Texan off the bases. Good luck with that.

Dru Baker, Texas Tech

Baker showed up in Austin last weekend with an unmistakable swagger. The Red Raiders’ leadoff hitter went on to make life miserable for the Longhorns, who lost their first series at home all year. In Game 1, he opened with two weak at bats and then, in his next two trips to the plate, he doubled. In the fifth inning, he slammed a two-run, two-bagger that broke the game open in a 6-3 victory. His play led directly to an outcome that was a psychological blow to the Longhorns, who lost in a key game started by ace right-hander Ty Madden. Baker has been good all year. He’s a .393 hitter. Freshman Jace Jung from San Antonio has created a lot of excitement with his power hitting, but right now, Baker seems to be the man.

Landon Sims, Mississippi State

I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about the Bulldogs, except that they seem capable of beating just about anybody. But I do have a memory of right-handed reliever Landon Sims that stands out. A few weeks ago, he entered a game in the seventh inning at Nashville against Vanderbilt. With the Commodores threatening, he gave up a couple of singles to the first two batters he faced. A five-run Bulldogs lead had shrunk to three. At that point, he walked Bradfield to further muddle the situation. But then Sims took on something that can only be described as a Goose Gossage-like persona, striking out two to end the inning. Just the way he finished the inning, and then finished the game, bouncing around the mound in animation, made me think that the kid is very capable of doing the same in the playoffs.

Garage update

Well, it’s cleaner than I thought. But it’s still littered with plastic containers filled with old newspapers and boxes of old press guides. Who’s responsible? Hey, come see me after the College World Series.

Hooks’ Hensley homers twice in a 6-1 victory over the Missions

David Hensley hammered a pair of homers and drove in five runs Thursday night as the Corpus Christi Hooks turned on the offense early and then cruised to a 6-1 victory over the San Antonio Missions.

With the outburst, Hensley, a 6-foot-6 slugger who swings from the right side, increased his home run total to three in three games.

The Missions put a run on the board early, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on a Kyle Overstreet RBI single. From there, the Hooks retaliated by delivering with big swings from Hensley and Norel Gonzalez.

First, Hensley slammed a two-run shot in the bottom of the first. Next, Gonzalez added a solo shot in the second. In the bottom of the third, Hensley struck again with another two-run blast. It gave the Hooks a 5-1 lead and put them in charge against the Missions and starter Caleb Boushley, who was making his Double-A debut.

Hensley, from San Diego and San Diego State University, added to his best outing of the young season with an RBI single in the sixth inning.

After the Missions scored early, Hooks starter Jonathan Bermudez settled down to pitch five strong innings. Middle reliever Joe Record was wild, but he made it through the next three frames, and Nick Hernandez worked the ninth inning. Combined, the three of them limited the Missions to three hits and struck out 13 to continue a trend.

In three games, Hooks pitching has recorded 41 strike outs.

Records

Corpus Christi 2-1
San Antonio 1-2

Coming up

San Antonio at Corpus Christi, Friday night

Caleb Boushley gets his chance to shine in Double-A

Wisconsin native Caleb Boushley will get the ball for the Missions Thursday night as they try to rebound from their first loss. In the Missions’ third game of the season, set for Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Boushley is expected to start against lefty Jonathan Bermudez of the Hooks.

It’s a big day for Boushley, 27, a 33rd-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 2017, who has won an opening-day roster spot at the Double-A level of the minors for the first time in his career.

He has pitched almost entirely at the Class A level since he was drafted in 2017 out of NCAA Division III Wisconsin-LaCrosse. In his last full season, pre-pandemic, Boushley was named a midseason all star at Lake Elsinore in the Class A California League.

Boushley went on to finish the season 5-4 with a 3.61 earned run average. Last year, he thought he would get a chance to pitch for the Padres in Double-A Amarillo. But that day never came as the season was scrapped by the pandemic.

Instead, he returned home to Hortonville, Wis., to live with his parents. During the summer, he played catch on a tennis court with a teammate to try and stay sharp, according to the LaCrosse Tribune.

J.P. France fanned 11 in a 17-strikeout showing by the Hooks Wednesday night, leading to a 4-2 victory over the visiting Missions.

After France worked six innings, Enoli Paredes and Hunter Peck finished off a dominant performance. Together, the three allowed only four hits.

The Missions produced 13 hits in winning the opener, 8-3, on Tuesday night.

Grae Kessinger, the grandson of former Cubs star Don Kessinger, bashed a two-run homer off Missions left-hander Jerry Keel in the bottom of the sixth for a 3-2 Hooks lead. They added an insurance run in the eighth on an RBI double by Corey Julks, formerly of Clear Brook High School and the University of Houston.

Louisiana native Robbie Podorsky slapped a two-run single, his fifth hit in in two games, to give the Missions a 2-1 lead in the fifth.

It’s the first series of the season between the Hooks, affiliated with the Houston Astros, and the Missions, who are linked this year with the San Diego Padres. The series is six games and will run through Sunday.

Records

Corpus Christi 1-1
San Antonio 1-1

Coming up

Caleb Boushley pitching for San Antonio at Corpus Christi, with lefty Jonathan Bermudez, Thursday, 6:35 p.m.

Missions call on Adrian Martinez to start in Game 2

San Antonio Missions shortstop CJ Abrams playing against the Corpus Christi Hooks in the season opener on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

Shortstop CJ Abrams went 2 for 5 with two doubles and an RBI in his Missions debut Tuesday night. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Missions have been blessed with standout play at shortstop over the past several years. In 2018, it was Fernando Tatis, Jr. In 2019, Mauricio Dubon. This year, they’ll have CJ Abrams, the No. 2 prospect in the San Diego Padres organization.

Abrams slapped a couple of doubles in his Double-A debut as the Missions opened the new season by beating the Corpus Christi Hooks 8-3 on the road Tuesday night.

The Missions and Hooks will continue with the season-opening, six-game series Wednesday night at Whataburger Field. Right-hander Adrian Martinez is scheduled to start for San Antonio against righty J.P. France for Corpus Christi, a Houston Astros affiliate.

In Game 1, the Missions backed starting pitcher Reiss Knehr with 13 hits, including four by Robbie Podorsky and three by Juan Fernandez. Knehr limited the Hooks to two runs on three hits in five innings.

Notes

Among the Missions standouts in the opener, Podorsky (Baton Rouge, La.) is the oldest at 26. Knehr (Glen Head, N.Y.) is 24. Fernandez (Valencia, Venezuela) is 22 and Abrams (Roswell, Ga.) 20.

A reason cheer for the River Bandits, the Shorebirds and the Cannon Ballers

All around the country, umpires on Tuesday night will tug at their face masks and cry out, ‘play ball,’ as the minor leagues start the new season. Play ball, indeed. Fans in minor-league towns have been dying to see their teams play for almost two years.

Last summer, minor league baseball at all levels was canceled by the pandemic. Not only did it hurt the fans, but the players were left with scant few opportunities to play — until now.

Poring over some rosters this evening, I found some former local players who have a chance to renew the chase for their dreams in some pretty far-flung locales.

Here are a few:

Asa Lacy, pitcher — Quad Cities River Bandits, Kansas City Royals affiliate, Davenport Iowa, High A Central. Lacy pitched in high school at Kerrville Tivy and in college at Texas A&M. Drafted out of Teas A&M in 2020 by the Royals with the fourth pick.

Jordan Westburg, infielder — Delmarva Shorebirds, Baltimore Orioles affiliate, Salisbury, Md., Low A East. Westburg played in high school for the New Braunfels Unicorns and in college for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Drafted out of Mississippi State in 2020 by the Orioles with a competitive balance round selection, the 30th overall pick.

Jared Kelley, pitcher — Kaanapolis Cannon Ballers, Chicago White Sox affliate, Kaanapolis, N.C., Low A East. Kelley played in high school at Refugio. Drafted out of high school in 2020 by the White Sox on the second round, with the 47th pick

Hudson Head, outfielder — Bradenton Marauders, Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, Bradenton, Fla., Low A Southeast. Head played in high school for the Churchill Chargers. Drafted out of Churchill in 2019 by the San Diego Padres, in the third round, with the 84th pick. Traded by the Padres to the Pirates Jan. 19 in the Joe Musgrove deal.

The destination is in question for another high-profile local standout. Texas Rangers prospect Josh Jung, formerly of MacArthur and Texas Tech, suffered a stress fracture in his left foot around the first of March.

Reports indicated that it might take a couple of months to heal. If he comes out of it OK, it’s possible that Jung, the eighth pick on the first round of the 2019 draft, could start his season at Triple-A Round Rock.

Forrest Whitley‘s story is another, altogether. And it’s potentially a heartbreaker. Drafted in 2016 by the Astros out of Alamo Heights High School in the first round, with the 17th overall selection, Whitley has pitched only as high as the Triple-A level.

Earlier this year, in spring training, it was determined that he had a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which would require reconstructive surgery. So, Whitley is likely looking at a comeback in 2022 at the earliest.

Elsewhere

Ralph Garza Jr., pitcher — Sugar Land Skeeters, Houston Astros affiliate, Sugar Land, Tex., Triple-A West. Garza played in high school at New Braunfels. He is starting his sixth minor league season in the Astros’ organization. In five previous seasons, he is 25-12, with a 3.79 ERA. Drafted out of the University of Oklahoma 2015, he was selected in the 26th round with the 769th pick.