Texas Tech baseball: Previewing the Red Raider pitching staff

Jun 15, 2019; Omaha, NE, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Tim Tadlock greets his players prior to the game against the Michigan Wolverines in the 2019 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park . Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2019; Omaha, NE, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Tim Tadlock greets his players prior to the game against the Michigan Wolverines in the 2019 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park . Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Texas Tech baseball team has a talented pitching staff in 2021 but some key injuries have already taken their toll before the first pitch has been thrown.

Being as we had only 19 games of Texas Tech baseball in 2021, our lives have been rather devoid of the joy that is the sound of metal bats pinging in the springtime.  But that’s about to change as Tim Tadlock’s Red Raiders are set to take the field on Friday to open up a new season, one that we hope lasts into June rather than just March.

They say that baseball is all about pitching and defense and though that old axiom isn’t always true in the collegiate game where runs are scored aplenty, there’s no doubt that for the Red Raiders to finally break through and win the program’s first national title, the arms on the mound are going to have to hold up their end of the bargain.  After all, you can slug your way to Omaha but once there, you have to pitch your way through the field.

This year, the Red Raiders have an intriguing pitching staff and one that many believe is good enough to deliver the ultimate prize to Lubbock.  So let’s break down Tadlock’s collection of arms starting with a player who might be his ace.

Micah Dallas will be an ace, regardless of whether he starts

Tim Tadlock does things his own way.  That’s especially true with how he deploys his pitching staff.  For instance, last year, he elected to use arguably his best pitcher, Micah Dallas, as a reliever, rather than as a starter despite the fact that as a freshman in 2019, the Aubrey, Texas native was his team’s Friday night starter amassing a 7-2 record with a 4.03 ERA.

But the move to the pen seemed to suit Dallas just fine.  In 5 appearances, he had an ERA of 0.57 while collecting three saves and allowing hitters just a .132 average.

What was interesting is that Dallas was still a workhorse despite being a reliever.  He threw 15.2 innings fourth-most on the team last spring.

But though he flourished as a key bullpen piece, most people would utilize him as a starter.  That’s because he has a three-pitch arsenal that makes him a prime candidate to navigate an opposing lineup multiple times in a game.  His mid-90s fastball is perfectly complemented by a wipeout slider and a changeup that can make hitters look foolish.

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The 6-foot-2 righty seems like the most likely candidate to move into a rotation that lost stalwarts Bryce Bonnin, Clayton Beeter, and Hunter Dobbins over the offseason.  But then again, Tadlock has a history of using some of his best pitchers as long men out of the pen.  Still, we know that Dallas will be a horse for the Red Raiders this year and he’s one that Tech could ride all the way to Omaha.

A potentially dominant newcomer

From the JUCO ranks, Texas Tech has added former Texas A&M hurler Brandon Birdsell, who spent one year at San Jacinto JC in 2020 after leaving College Station.  Now, he figures to compete for a spot in Tech’s weekend rotation.

The 6-foot-2 native of Willis, Texas has plenty of tools.  His fastball reportedly can creep into the upper 90s and he is comfortable throwing as many as five variations of breaking pitches.  That’s what teams look for in players who are going to be starters.

After blowing out his UCL in high school in 2018, Birdsell underwent Tommy John’s surgery, and the recovery from that likely impacted his performance with the Aggies in 2019 (a 1-0 record and a 6.43 ERA in seven innings pitched).  But he rebounded last year in the JUCO ranks by posting a 2.48 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 29 innings pitched before COVID-19 shut his season down.

It seems like Birdsell is a lock for the Texas Tech rotation this year.  However, he’s going to have to win a spot in the weekend rotation where there are plenty of contenders.  But make no mistake, his addition to the team is going to be a huge boost to the Red Raider pitching staff.

Injuries taking a toll

Speaking of Tommy John’s surgery, that baseball inevitability has already struck the 2021 Red Raiders by taking starter Hunter Dobbins out of the equation for this season.  That could end Dobbins’ Red Raider career given that he’s a potential MLB Draft pick this summer.

Dobbins, who has a fastball that can reach 98 mph, was expected to be a key weekend starter this year.  Last spring, he had a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings as a sophomore as he made a massive jump in his second season with the program.  Now, his absence means that Tech will have to shuffle its plans for the weekend series.

He becomes the third member of the program to undergo Tommy John’s surgery this offseason joining Austin Becker and Jakob Brustoski, both of whom would have also been key weapons in 2021.

Becker started four games last year and tossed 13.1 innings overall while Brustoski had a 1.80 ERA in seven relief appearances.  Both of them will be missed, along with Dobbins.

The other key starters

To go with Birdsell and Dallas, the Red Raiders have a plethora of options to round out the starting rotation.  Sophomore lefty Mason Montgomery is a name to watch after he posted a 3.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts in four starts a year ago.

Also, look out for Andrew Devine, who had a strong fall in the intrasquad series.  He could emerge as a starter after making six relief appearances with a 1.23 ERA as a freshman in 2020.

But Tadlock has a ton of options and to sort through them all would us quite a long time, especially given the mysterious way that the head coach likes to utilize his pitching staff.  But what isn’t hard to figure out is the fact that there will be a ton of talent on the mound for the Red Raiders this fall.  The question is whether it is enough to get the team to a national championship should the bats slug their way to Omaha once again.