GREENVILLE, N.C.—Modern hitters may have the idea of working counts drilled into their brains, but against Andrew Lantrip, they do it at their own peril. More times than not, that’s going to mean taking strike one, then strike two.
As his coach Todd Whitting says, Lantrip simply smothers hitters with strikes. Witness the Houston righthander’s astounding 44-1 strikeout-walk ratio—not to mention his 1.69 ERA—after his first six starts of 2016.
“He’s pretty efficient with his pitches,” Whitting said. “He just keeps coming at them with strike after strike after strike. He gets guys down in the count so quick, they’ve got to be ready to hit as soon as they step in there.”
Lantrip had a rare bout of wildness, by his standards, April 1 in his seventh start at East Carolina, walking two and plunking three—he hit only one batter over his first six outings—in eight innings, a game that ended up with his ERA jumping all the way to 1.95. Nonetheless, he remained tied for the national lead in strikeout-to-walk ratio (16.0), having whiffed 48 in 51 innings, against just three walks. He’d gone at least seven innings in five straight starts, none of them requiring more than 110 pitches.
The junior doesn’t come at hitters with overwhelming velocity, his fastball working in the 87-89 mph range. As a freshman pitching mostly out of the bullpen, he used the fastball almost exclusively, with his slider as little more than a change-of-pace pitch. But he sharpened his slider after that year, turning it into his bread-and-butter secondary pitch, and he’s started mixing in more of his running changeup as well.
Even as a guy without an overpowering fastball, Lantrip’s not much interested in trying to play games with hitters. Outside of the occasional quick pitch, there’s no fooling around. It’s going to be strike one, strike two.
“I’ll quick pitch guys here and there. Just depends on the situation in a game. But I’m not too much into trying to trick ‘em,” Lantrip said. “I’m into throwing the ball over the plate and working in the zone and making them either get themselves out or making quality pitches to get a strikeout or roll over or a fly out.”
Part of the ethos of Houston’s program is bringing in tough-minded players that might’ve flown under the bigger schools’ radars. Lantrip fits into its niche, hailing from the town of Livingston, Texas (population: 5,200), about 75 miles north of Houston.
“He wasn’t a really sought-after kid,” Whitting said. “But we liked him from day one. He’s grown and matured since then, but it was just every time you’d go watch him pitch—his stuff wasn’t in high school like it is now, obviously, but he was just so c-ompetitive. He’s just a good baseball player.”
Lantrip made just six starts among his 14 appearances as a freshman, but he was effective whenever he took the mound, going 6-0, 1.87 in 43 innings for a team that reached a super regional. Expected to build on that momentum, the Cougars entered Lantrip’s sophomore campaign ranked third in the country, carrying Omaha expectations.
Instead, Houston stumbled out of the gates, while returning starters Justin Garza and Jake Lemoine were plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness. Lantrip, slated to be the third member of the rotation, soon found himself thrust into getting the ball on Friday nights. No, he’s not the classic Friday ace destined to be a first-round pick, but Whitting and pitching coach Frank Anderson liked Lantrip’s composure and attacking mentality as a tone setter for the weekend.
“I think it’s more of a mindset,” Whitting said. “The coaches look at him, he gets you started in game one with a competitive mindset. He’s an ultra competitor, and that’s kind of what I keep going back to every time I talk about Andrew—he’s just really, really competitive. He’s not going to blow you away with his stuff, but he can really, really pitch. His stuff holds up in the zone.”
By the end of the season, Lantrip had gone 9-3, 2.62 and led the American Athletic Conference in strikeouts with 115 in 113 innings, while the Cougars got back in the national mix, winning the AAC regular-season title and hosting a regional, though they were knocked out by rival Rice. Now the pitching staff’s established leader as a junior, Lantrip and the Cougars have their eyes on clearing one more hurdle—getting the Cougars to Omaha for the first time since 1967.
“That’s what you want to do whenever you come in,” Lantrip said. “You want to make the program better each and every year. . . . This year, we’re trying to build onto that and not only host but host a super regional and then hopefully get to Omaha. That’s the end goal—not only just get there, but to win it.”