March 30, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
BEAUMONT - The research was completed and alterations made, so all that was left for Rice junior lefthander Doug Simmons was to apply his discoveries on how poor mechanics negatively impact his performance.
In theory bridging the chasm between discovery and application isn't quite that simple, but that truth didn't prevent Simmons from working three dominant innings of relief on Tuesday night, anchoring a strong pitching effort in the Owls' 7-2 win over Lamar at Vincent-Beck Stadium.
Six Rice pitchers combined to allow Lamar (15-10) just two unearned runs on nine hits and three walks while compiling 11 strikeouts. Simmons labored the longest of the 13 pitchers that toed the rubber for both teams, and his career-high five strikeouts were a byproduct of both his effectiveness and the staff's desire to see him maintain momentum.
"I thought I was just going to go in there for one batter like I had been doing the whole season, but they kept telling me every time I came back in (the dugout), `You're going to go one more,'" Simmons said. "I guess they wanted me to face those four lefthanded hitters (atop the Lamar order) again."
When Simmons entered to face Cardinals left fielder Clayton Farhat with two outs in the fourth inning, he did so with Andy Mena on base and the Owls (14-12) clinging to a 4-2 lead. Simmons retired Farhat before setting down four consecutive batters. Lamar third baseman Pablo Salinas drew a one-out walk in the sixth, but Simmons responded by setting four more Cardinals down in order, including the first two of that quartet of lefthanders he was challenged to retire to open the seventh.
Simmons was lifted when Lamar right fielder Quentin Luquette lined an infield single off Simmons' glove, but the Owls held a 6-2 lead at that juncture and appeared firmly in control. Simmons had struck out four in a total of 5 1/3 innings prior to his appearance against Lamar, an outing in which his arsenal of confounding pitches was on full display. The bouts of wildness that had plagued Simmons were a distant memory.
"It's been kind of a lesson for me the last two times I pitched," Simmons said, referring to his outing at Texas last week. "I've been really staying closed with my body and it's been helping me out. I've been having a really good feel for my changeup, and that's been helping me out a lot.
"The two times that I pitched bad were at Stanford and San Diego. I was flying open and throwing across my body. Every fastball I was throwing was down and out. Since (then), I've been really trying to stay closed."
"Added Rice coach Wayne Graham: "Simmons was a big, big, huge plus. He was the guy that really stepped forward tonight and showed us he can help us a lot. And I believe he can.
"He threw a good curveball, he threw sinking fastballs, and he had a good changeup. What's not to like? It was all good."
Senior righthander Mike Ojala (1-0), in just his third appearance since his return from midsummer Tommy John surgery, set a positive tone in his first start of the season. Facing a predetermined pitching count of 35, Ojala allowed three singles and one walk while striking out a batter in 1 2/3 innings. He would have completed his second inning of work were it not for a two-out throwing error with the bases loaded that enabled Lamar to slice the Owls' 4-0 lead in half. Ojala finished with 31 pitches.
"I was more settled down, less out of control, wild and crazy," Ojala said in comparing his start with his two previous relief outings at San Diego and at Texas. "I was a little more calm tonight and relaxed. It was fun."
Having worked explicitly on situational hitting following their return from their league-opening series at Memphis last weekend, the Owls' offensive performance represented a mixed bag. On one hand the Owls matched their season low by striking out just four times, and three of those strikeouts came in their final four at-bats. Diego Seastrunk, Jimmy Comerota, Abel Gonzales and Anthony Rendon knocked in runs with sacrifice flies, and Jeremy Rathjen struck the decisive blow with a two-out, two-run double off Blake Ford (1-3) for a 3-0 lead in the first inning.
On the other hand, the Owls failed to drive in a run via a base hit after the second inning despite having the leadoff batter reach in the third, fifth, sixth and eighth inning. In the third and sixth the Owls' first two batters reached yet they scored just one run total, and in the eighth the Owls loaded the bases with no outs but settled for the Rendon sac fly.
"The guys that delivered the sacrifice flies did good. The guys that left some other guys on (base) had some terrible at-bats," Graham said. "At least the guys that were in a situation when they knew they needed to get the fly ball, they got it when we needed a run. And that's good."
The Owls will host crosstown rival Houston on Thursday at Reckling Park, the opening game of a key three-game, Conference USA series.