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College | Story | 4/12/2019

Lodolo locked-in at TCU

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Nick Lodolo (TCU Athletics)

The 2019 college baseball regular-season has cleared the third turn, is fast approaching the clubhouse turn and prepping for its final five-week sprint to the finish, and Nick Lodolo and his No. 23-ranked TCU teammates are still searching for consistency.

With 31 regular-season games in the books and 22 more to go – including five more three-game weekend series with Big 12 Conference opponents – before the start of the league tournament, the Horned Frogs will have ample opportunity to get some hay in the barn.

It starts tonight with a three game nonconference set against Seton Hall, and according to Lodolo – a 6-foot-6, 185-pound left-hander and a 2015 Perfect Game All-American – it’s high-time the Frogs put together some wins.

“We’re just trying to get on a roll, and every team here that has gotten to Omaha has gotten on a roll,” he told PG this week. “We can tell we’ve gotten a lot better since the beginning of the year and we’re just waiting for that come; it will and I think all of us believe that.”

The last year-and-a-half has been a little out of whack in Fort Worth, although this season is going much better than last year’s, to this point anyway. The Horned Frogs went into 2018 having advanced to an NCAA Regional 13 of the 14 previous seasons, an NCAA Super Regional seven of the previous nine and the College World Series four straight years (2014-17).

TCU finished 33-23 overall (10-13 Big 12) and not only failed to return to a Super Regional for a sixth straight year and CWS for a fifth straight but didn’t receive an NCAA Regional berth for the first time since 2013, the Frogs’ first season in the Big 12.

After taking 2-of-3 from Oklahoma last weekend and dropping a nonconference game to next-door neighbor Dallas Baptist on Tuesday, TCU takes a record of 20-11 (5-4 Big 12) into its games with Seton Hall this weekend.

In its first “Field of 64” report published April 10, PG projects TCU to earn an at-large berth into this year’s NCAA tournament if it doesn’t rally to win either the Big 12 regular-season or conference tournament championships.

“We all know we could be a little bit better if we just clean up some of the things that are within our control,” Lodolo said. “We’re (heading) in a positive direction and where we stand right now we all feel confident about everything. Coming from last year we basically have a whole new team and I think everyone’s adapted pretty well.”

Fourteen pitchers have made at least four appearances this season and eight have started at least one game; the staff carries a 4.23 team ERA. Head coach Jim Schlossnagle, who PG was unable to reach for comment for this report, hasn’t been happy with the performance of his staff to date. He didn’t mince his words in comments to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after an 11-6 loss to Dallas Baptist Tuesday night, calling the staff’s performance “disappointing” at best.

Lodolo and junior left-hander Brandon Williamson (a 36th round pick of the Brewers out of a juco in ’18) have both made eight starts and are a combined 7-3. Senior righty Jared Janczak (32nd Rnd, Angels ’18) has five starts and junior lefty Haylen Green and junior righty Jake Eissler have three starts apiece.

Junior right-hander Charles King, who joined Lodolo at the 2015 PG All-American Classic, made his first start of the season last weekend against Oklahoma and picked up the win after seven solid innings of work; he had previously made 11 appearances out of the pen.

Sophomore lefty Augie Mihlbauer and freshman right-hander Marcelo Perez have made 15 and 13 relief appearances, respectively, and Perez leads the team with five saves.

“You have to come focused every game or those teams that aren’t Big 12 opponents they’ll sneak up on you and steal one and you can’t have that,” Lodolo said.

TCU’s hitters, on the other hand, have been producing at a national championship level. The Frogs boast a .310 team batting average with five every day players hitting .303 or better and are averaging just over seven runs per game.

Junior infielder Jake Guenther has been swinging the most potent bat to this point, slashing .404/.518/.606 with four home runs and 26 RBI. Senior Joshua Watson (.341-4-23), senior Johnny Rizer (.313-4-13), junior Alex Isola (.307-4-23) and junior Austin Henry (.303-3-26) have also been better than pretty good.

Lodolo has been a bright light for the Frogs on the mound this season. He was the losing pitcher in his first two starts despite allowing only four earned runs on nine hits in 12 innings of work. He’s 4-0 with two no-decisions in his last six starts, allowing 5 earned runs 31 hits and striking out 56 in 41 1/3 innings (1.09 ERA).

It all adds up to a 4-2 record with a 1.52 ERA and 68 punch-outs in 53 1/3 heading into his start against Seton Hall tonight. Lodolo has definitely found his comfort zone, although he said he’s felt comfortable ever since his first start wearing a TCU uniform.

‘I think the difference now is just being more consistent and understanding what I’m trying to do with the baseball when I’m on the mound,” he said. “Just being 100 percent committed to what I’m trying to do out there is the biggest part of it.”

After observing one of his starts in late February, a PG scout reported:

“Physically, Lodolo looks like a peak projectable lefty, tall and lanky with long limbs, broadness to his shoulders and seemingly plenty of room to continue filling out his frame. The operation is pretty easy, with a clean delivery that gets online to the plate … (and) the arm action is likewise clean and easy.”

Lodolo made his Perfect Game debut at the 2013 Sunshine West Showcase in Chula Vista, Calif., as a 6-foot-3, 150-pound 15-year-old, and earned Top Prospect List recognition after showing off a 79 mph fastball, 63 mph curveball and 65 mph changeup.

A little more than a year later he was back on another TPL at the 2014 PG Underclass All-American Games in San Diego, where his fastball velo had increased to 84 mph.

By the time he pitched for the SGV Arsenal at the 2015 17u PG World Series in Goodyear, Ariz., he was all the way up to 92 mph with his heater, and he earned all-tournament recognition facing some of the country’s top 17u hitters at the event.

“That was the first time I had played in a tournament with all the top teams and all the top guys that you hear about from around the nation,” Lodolo said. “I pitched really well (at the event) … and playing against the best at those tournaments is just something that really helps.”

Despite having not attended the 2015 PG National Showcase, Lodolo was invited to the 2015 PG All-American Classic in San Diego. He soaked in everything the PGAAC experience had to offer but mostly he did what every PGAA should set out to do: he had a blast!

“One of my top baseball memories is that (four days) I spent there,” he said. “And not just for the game but being around all those other guys that you know you’re going to play with at the next level, whether its college or professional.

“Just being around those guys and then the experience at Rady (Children’s Hospital) I thought was awesome, and going to Trevor Hoffman’s beach house, I thought that was really cool.”

He arrived at the Classic after also pitching at the Area Code Games, and his stock was rising. He was a first-team Rawlings PG All-American as a senior at Damien High School in La Verne, Calif., and when he graduated he was the No. 48-ranked overall prospect nationally (No. 9 California) and the Nos. 9/1-ranked left-handed pitcher.

The slender southpaw with “silky smooth arm action” had obvious upside and projectability and the Pirates made Lodolo a first-round compensation pick (No. 41 overall) in the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft. He weighed his options, contemplated his future and decided to head to Fort Worth.

“I wanted to get a head start on my education and it just felt like the right move for me,” Lodolo said. “I wanted to play college baseball and I thought this was the best place for me to develop. I would still 100 percent make that decision and that was basically it. I was really (intent) on playing here at TCU and honoring my commitment and I knew if I had signed there was no way I was going back to school.”

The only word Lodolo could conjure up when asked what his three years in Fort Worth has been like was “awesome.” He then talked about being away from home for the first time and how much he began learning about himself both on and off the baseball field.

It didn’t take long for him to get acclimated to life in Fort Worth, life at TCU and life in the Big 12 Conference. He was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team, Big 12 Second Team All-Conference and the Big 12 Academic All-Rookie Team in 2017 and was Second Team All-Conference and Second Team Academic All-Conference as a sophomore in 2018; Lodolo was a combined 12-5 with a 4.33 ERA his first two seasons.

He told PG his transition into the college game during his freshman season in 2017 was made easier by the fact the roster was filled with veteran guys, many of whom had made multiple trips to Omaha as part of College World Series teams.

“That was definitely a big help in my development,” Lodolo said. “We had a lot of senior and junior pitchers on my freshman team and them talking to me and telling me what to expect and then going through it my freshman year was a big help (in getting me) to where I am now.”

Lodolo can expect to hear his name called again during this year’s MLB Draft, and it seems likely he’ll be a first-rounder for a second time; PG ranks him as the No. 8 overall college prospect in the draft and the top college left-hander.

Having already gone through it once before, Lodolo knows there is little about the process that he can control; if he goes out and pitches well everything will take care of itself. He also knows that if he goes out and pitches the way he’s capable of, he can help the Frogs develop more consistency down the stretch while they roll into the NCAA postseason.

“You can’t look too far ahead at this point, you’ve just got to look at one game at a time,” he concluded. “You’ve got to try to win (the next) game, obviously, and then try to string them together. That’s what we can do and I think that’s what we will do.”

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