After winning another game by the slimmest of margins — another game that’s frankly everything good about baseball — Oklahoma State has presented itself with something of an ideal dilemma.
Starting pitchers Thomas Hatch and Tyler Buffett respectively dispatched Cal-Santa Barbara and Arizona 1-0 in their first two games at the College World Series, with Hatch going nine innings on Saturday and Buffett eight on Monday — it’s the first back-to-back 1-0 victories in CWS history — and now the Cowboys must ponder the future.
In Omaha, winning your first two games is like landing on the right spot in Chutes and Ladders, or like drawing the right Community Chest card in Monopoly: OSU pitched magnificently, played remarkable defense and now gets to skip ahead four days to Friday’s bracket final.
But therein lies the dilemma: does pitching coach Rob Walton call on Hatch again in Friday’s game?
Or, with a best-of-3 series looming on Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday (if the Cowboys win Friday), does Walton bring freshman Jensen Elliott into his first postseason game in 19 days to try to preserve Hatch for the championship series?
(Or, if Elliott goes Friday and OSU loses, does Hatch pitch Saturday’s elimination game?)
Elliott has 16 starts this season and is 9-2 with a 3.27 ERA. That’s not quite Hatch’s level (18 starts, 9-2, 1.89), but it’s very good — on par with Buffett (8-3, 3.15), who has been spectacular since leaving the bullpen for the No. 2 spot in the rotation following the Big 12 Tournament meltdown.
Hatch, of course, hasn’t pitched on three days’ rest all season (he’s had 6-8 days between starts all year). In late April-early May, Hatch threw three consecutive complete game shutouts in a 14-day span.
But pitching on three days’ rest is exactly what Hatch would do if he returned to the hill on Friday and then came back for Game 2 of the championship series on Tuesday.
Hatch and Orange Nation probably might say what the heck, it’s the last game of the year, but the Chicago Cubs might hope Walton errs on the side of caution with their new second-round draft pick.
The CWS format is extremely pitcher-friendly — until the championship series, that is.
With a title on the line, against the best competition in the land, teams are forced to juggle starters and hold back relievers and then, if necessary, empty bullpens in three consecutive days.
Two good starters just aren’t enough, and your bullpen had better be solid.
So far, the situation couldn’t have worked out any better for the Cowboys. OSU is 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament and hasn’t been behind in a game yet.
But come Friday, things could get interesting.