Eight games into the season and the University of Houston baseball team has already experienced a four-game winning streak and a four-game losing skid.
The 21st-ranked Cougars opened the season with four straight wins, outscoring Villanova and McNeese State 41-5 along the way. However in the team’s last four games, losses to Texas Tech, Arkansas, TCU and Texas-San Antonio, UH has been outscored 28-8.
“Every year you’re going to go through a little bit of a skid, and we’re hitting ours a little bit early right now, but I fully expect us to pop out of it,” Houston head coach Todd Whitting said. “You can’t panic less than 10 games into the season. If you lose a couple of games, you keep on rolling.”
One of the reasons Whitting cited for the Cougars' recent struggles is lack of consistency.
“Consistency is always a key to anything, getting into a routine. We were thrown off a little bit,” he said. “I think possibly one of those two games last weekend – Saturday, Sunday – would have been a little different had (Seth) Romero been pitching. That’s just the way it is. You can’t do anything to change it.”
Romero, a freshman All-American who led the American Athletic Conference with a 1.94 ERA a year ago, was suspended before the start of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. The left-hander was reinstated earlier this week after missing Houston’s first seven games.
“Every day is always a learning experience for everybody. You can’t hold things against people,” Whitting said. “He’s back on the team. He’s in good graces with everybody. He did the things I asked him to do to earn his way back on the team. He’s done it so it’s all behind us.”
Romero made his season debut Tuesday against UTSA, striking out four batters in three scoreless innings of relief. He is expected to rejoin the rotation where he’ll be on a normal early season pitch count of 80 to 100 pitches.
“His arm is in shape. It’s not like he hasn’t been throwing,” Whitting said. “He’s been training on his own, throwing bullpens on his own. He didn’t just shut it down and not pick up a ball for two weeks.”
While Romero’s return to the rotation could help provide more consistency for the Cougars on the mound, Houston is looking for a little bit of luck to get back on track offensively.
“Right now every decision we make and every situation we’re in hasn’t gone our way,” Whitting said.
The Cougars head coach pointed to a scenario that unfolded in last Friday’s 3-2 loss to Texas Tech in the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic as an example.
With the game tied 1-1 in the top of the fifth, Houston had the bases loaded with two outs and its hottest hitter, true freshman Joe Davis, at the plate. Davis, who drove in the Cougars’ first run of the game, hit a ball sharply to third base but was retired on the play as UH failed to score.
An inning later, the Red Raiders were in the same situation with bases loaded and two outs. This time, Texas Tech’s Ryan Long was able to pull the ball through the hole between first and second to score a pair of runs on what was the game-winning hit.
Overall, Houston went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base in the defeat.
“A lot of it is just bad luck right now. The guys are playing hard,” Whitting said. “As long as they’re giving me great energy, effort and attitude, then you take the wins and losses as they come, and you know if you keep that up, then at some point it’s going to turn.”
Whitting and the Cougars hope the results start to turn in their favor starting with this weekend’s three-game series against in-state rival Baylor.
The Bears enter the series having won four straight games, including a 5-1 victory over Sam Houston State on Tuesday. The team is 5-3 overall to start the season under first-year head coach Steve Rodriguez.
“I think the thing with Baylor right now is they’re playing with a lot on new-coach energy,” Whitting said.
Rodriguez, who Whitting described as an “upbeat guy,” came to Baylor after spending 12 seasons coaching at his alma mater, Pepperdine. Last season, he guided the Waves to their second straight West Coast Conference tournament title and their eighth overall NCAA Tournament appearance in his tenure with the program.
Like the Bears new head coach, the majority of Rodriguez’s staff has West Coast roots. The lone exception is Mike Taylor who joined the Baylor staff after a two-year stint as an assistant at UH.
“They’re going to know a lot of the things that we do just because of the fact that coach Taylor has coached here,” Whitting said. “It should be a really good series. I’m excited about it.”
While Whitting is looking forward to the competition against a former Southwest Conference rival, he especially wants to see his team embrace a “hate to lose” mentality.
“When a team learns to hate to lose, you’ll stop losing,” Whitting said. “You’ve got to hate to lose a lot more than you’ve got to like to win.”