— TCU Baseball (@TCU_Baseball) April 29, 2017
LUBBOCK, Texas—Nick Lodolo came to Texas Christian with a Friday night starter’s pedigree. He had been the highest-drafted player not to sign last year, opting to play for the Horned Frogs and anchor their fifth-ranked recruiting class instead of start his pro career after the Pirates made him the 41st overall pick in June.
Lodolo immediately slotted into TCU’s rotation, to mixed results in the first half of the season. But the lefthander has found his form in the last two weeks and moved to the front of the rotation to fill in for the injured Jared Janczak.
Friday, in the biggest game of his young career, Lodolo delivered his best start. Facing No. 7 Texas Tech on the road in a matchup of the top two teams in the Big 12 Conference standings in front of a sellout crowd of 4,432 fans at Rip Griffin Park and many more watching on Fox Sports 1, Lodolo held the Red Raiders to one run in eight innings to help lead No. 4 TCU (31-9, 12-4) to a 4-1 victory.
“To do this against ball club in this ballpark with the crowd, national TV—it’s a good sign for the Frogs,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said.
Lodolo said he gained confidence from his performance Friday.
“I know I can do it and go out there and compete with these guys and just put these guys in a position to win,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do all year. There’s been times where I haven’t really helped the hitters, but they’ve helped me. I’m trying to keep them in games and get wins.”
Lodolo (5-1, 4.39) held the Red Raiders (34-12, 9-7) to four hits and three walks and struck out four. He pounded the lower half of the strike zone with his fastball that sat in the low 90s and created 10 ground-ball outs, helping him work efficiently. He threw 106 pitches in eight innings.
Throwing strikes and being efficient has been a struggle at times this season for Lodolo. Twice this season he has gotten three outs or less in a start. But over the last few weeks, with the help of pitching coach Kirk Saarloos, Lodolo has made a mechanical correction to keep him more on line to the plate. That has helped him locate his fastball more consistently.
“Kirk made an adjustment two weeks ago, and (Lodolo) took it into the Baylor game,” Schlossnagle said. “I thought he pitched really well. It wasn’t as consistent as tonight, but it was definitely an improvement. I think just another week of working on it, it was just a minor thing to try to close him off and stay more on line.”
Listed at 6-foot-6, 185 pounds, Lodolo gets good angle on his lively fastball. When he throws it down in the zone, it results in a lot of weak contact. When he’s locating his fastball, he can also attack hitters with a sharp curveball and changeup. He has struck out 52 batters in 53.1 innings.
Lodolo said the biggest lesson he’s learned this spring has been to trust his stuff.
“It’s a big adjustment from high school,” he said. “In high school you can miss and get outs. Here, if you miss, it’s going to get punished. That’s been the big thing.”
Texas Tech pitching coach Ray Hayward, who served as head coach Friday with Tim Tadlock suspended following an ejection Tuesday at New Mexico, said that the Red Raiders had talked about trying to take pitches and work the count because of Lodolo’s early-season wildness. But with Lodolo working in the strike zone, they were unable to execute that plan.
Hayward, who spent 12 years as a scout for the Tigers and the Marlins, said he could see why Lodolo was so highly thought of in the draft last year.
“I can see how they wanted him because he’s a very projectable guy,” Hayward said. “He’s already throwing in the low- to mid-90s and he’s got a feel for three pitches. Anytime you’ve got a guy like that, you’ve got to be fundamentally sound at the plate and really battle. The guy pitched his tail off tonight and did a good job.”
Lodolo’s upside is significant and the Horned Frogs have been eager to tap into it. Even when the lefthander struggled early in the season, Schlossnagle said there was no thought of removing him from the rotation because of his potential. TCU’s other starters—Janczak, righthanders Brian Howard and Mitchell Traver—are all experienced and solid, but don’t fit the profile of a Friday night ace.
Lodolo has that potential and if he is ready to fulfill it, TCU—already a national championship contender—will become even more difficult to beat in the NCAA Tournament.
Schlossnagle said that while Lodolo’s dominant start doesn’t mean he won’t have any more stumbles the rest of the season, Friday night will be an important memory the freshman can use as he prepares for big games in the future.
“He’s pitched in this environment and had success against a great offensive club,” Schlossnagle said. “If you’ve never done it, it’s hard to convince yourself that you have. Now that he has, it’s something he can draw on and use as motivation the rest of the year.”