HOUSTON—It was a good day to be a top prospect at the Houston College Classic. Logan Verrett and Brooks pinckard shined for Baylor in Friday's first game. John Stilson pitched very well in a no-decision for Texas A&M, and C.J. Cron reached base five times for Utah in the second game. And the best prospect in college baseball—Anthony Rendon—had three hits, two runs and an RBI to lead Rice to an 8-7 win against Kentucky in the third game.
Both of Rendon's first two hits were lasers to left field—a double down the line on a 1-and-2 pitch from lefthander Taylor Rogers in the first, and a single to left on a 2-2 offering in the third. He battled back from an 0-2 hole in that at-bat, then hit a couple of hard foul balls before whipping his bat through the zone for a line-drive single.
"I guess the first couple pitches in the count, I'm just trying to swing as hard as I can, put the barrel on the ball," Rendon said. "Good things will happen when you swing hard, you have good bat speed and you put the barrel on it, obviously. Then with two strikes, I like to open up a little bit, keep my weight back a lot more so I'll see the ball longer, then I'll try to spray wherever the pitch is going."
He also hit a flare to right for an RBI single in Rice's three-run sixth. Rendon started the game at DH while nursing a shoulder strain, but he moved to first base when the Owls shifted first baseman/righthander J.T. Chargois to the mound in the eighth. It was his first career appearance at first, and he said he was fired up to get to play a position again. While DHing has had no negative effect on his offense—he's hitting .450/.569/.725 with two homers, eight RBIs, 11 walks and just four strikeouts through 11 games—it has caused him plenty of angst in the dugout.
"It's a big transition," he said. "On the field, I'm always saying something to the pitcher. Before the inning I'll say something, make them laugh, just to relax them. So I'm not out there, I can't talk to my guys in the infield, so I'll talk to the guys in the dugout. I understand where the coaches are coming from now—it's somehow more stressful just watching the game in the dugout than being out there."
Chargois and junior center fielder Jeremy Rathjen were the other two stars of the game for the Owls. Chargois had three singles, lacing hard line drives to left, right and center, and Rathjen had a pair of doubles, a single and two RBIs. Chargois also earned the save, thwarting Kentucky's late comeback bid in the final two innings. He struck out three over 1 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings of relief, overpowering the Wildcats with a 90-93 mph fastball, a 79-81 slider and an 81 changeup from a low three-quarters slot.
"We're having to battle right now with the injuries and the unsteady pitching at times, but J.T., he was really good," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "And that made the difference in the game—the hitting, and J.T. shutting the door, that was it . . . He's a talented kid. The more he grows, the better he'll be. He's got a great arm, and he can hit. He didn't make many bad pitches, and he had the velocity. He got the changeup to work for him, and the sliders—I thought all the sliders were down. I don't think he threw a single slider up."
At the plate, Chargois has recovered from a slow start to the season by concentrating on staying back and driving the ball middle to away, he said. As he spoke with reporters after the game, with a dirty uniform and sweat glistening on his face, he admitted he was exhausted when he got the call to take the mound late in the game, and having to run back and forth to the bullpen beyond the right-field fence didn't help.
"Once I get on the mound, I feel like for everybody, the adrenaline takes over," Chargois said. "Coach is always talking about the power of the human will, it just takes over and you can go places you never thought you could go. It feels great.
"Basically, Coach just told me to go out there and throw as hard as I could for as long as I could. We're all competitive in that dugout, and nobody wants to get taken out of the game, so I was hoping to finish it up."
Rice's bullpen was taxed a bit by a short outing from starter Matthew Reckling, who allowed three runs on four hits and two walks over 2 2/3 innings. After working at 90-93 mph in the first with an 80-81 power curveball, Reckling's stuff dropped off in the second inning, when he worked at 86-89 with a curveball around 78. The Wildcats' bunt game gave the Owls fits in a three-run second, but lefthander Abe Gonzalez kept Kentucky at bay over 4 1/3 innings of solid relief, allowing two runs.
Rice was without starting shortstop Derek Hamilton, who came down with a touch of pneumonia, according to Graham. Freshman Shane Hoelscher moved from third base (where he was supposed to fill in for Rendon) to shortstop, and Daniel Gonzales-Luna played third. The Owls also had a freshman in left field, as Michael Aquino filled in for Michael Fuda, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.
Graham had his own way of coping with his team's injury issues and resulting inexperience on the left side of the diamond.
"Serenity prayer, serenity prayer—that's all you can do. Serenity prayer," he said. "They did a great job. I'm hoping Hamilton can play tomorrow and we'll give Hoelscher some confidence at third. If not, we'll stay with what we've got."
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