Since being swept by the Texas Longhorns at the beginning of the month, OU (27-10, 6-7 Big 12) is 5-4 and head coach Sunny Golloway has been trying different combinations in the batting order to find the best offensive mix to end the bats' recent inconsistency.
But this weekend against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, Golloway is trying something new: mixing things up with the entire pitching rotation.
He usually just goes with trying a new Sunday pitcher—the Sooners have used four this year—but this weekend he's decided to push back junior pitchers Zach Neal (5-1, 4.08 ERA) and Bobby Shores' (5-2, 3.35 ERA) starts to Saturday and Sunday. The two pitchers have been the team's Friday and Saturday starters during Big 12 play, Shore started the season pitching on Sunday and worked his way up to the Saturday starter, and Golloway has not announced which pitcher will start tonight's series opener.
Senior pitcher Jeremy Erben has been the Sunday starter the past two weeks after dominating opposing batters out of the bullpen, but he has not exactly worked out. In two conference starts, Erben has allowed 16 runs (all earned) in 7 2/3 innings, and the Sooners have lost both of those games.
Erben was supposed to be the last weekend rotation change OU would make this season, Golloway said before Erben made his first start against Missouri on April 11, but the right hander's recent results have forced Golloway to try something new. Erben is a better pitcher out of the bullpen, Golloway admitted earlier this week, so Erben seems to be moving back into the stopper role.
So the question is who will start tonight?
Senior J.R. Robinson could be thrown back into the mix, but he's been very inconsistent in weekend starts. Senior Michael Rocha has made a couple starts this year, but he pitched 4 2/3 innings in Tuesday's 8-3 victory over Texas Christian, so he is probably only good for bullpen work.
Freshman Ryan Gibson could be considered as a possible starter, but, like Rocha, he threw more than four innings Tuesday, so he may not be ready in time to try to go too many innings as a starter tonight. Plus, he has really struggled as a starter during Big 12 play, and he may be a year away from being solid weekend starter.
Golloway could always go with an option that he usually reserves for midweek games when he wants to give the majority of his pitching staff some work before a big weekend series, pitch by committee.
The Sooners' staff has shown it has been successful pitching games like this, but it has not done it in a game OU was not heavily favored, which is definitely not the situation for this weekend. Still, the option is out there and would make sense to not overuse pitchers if they are needed in relief Saturday or Sunday.
We'll see what Golloway decides to do tonight shortly before the game's 6:30 p.m. start. The series will continue at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Tonight's game can be seen on Cox Ch. 3 (OKC and Tulsa), and Sunday's game will be on Fox College Sports.