Last year Cole Irvin made his return to the Oregon rotation, a cause for celebration as fans expected the return of their Ace. Does anyone remember how excited we were at the opening of the season?
Those grand hopes were forgotten early when we saw that Irvin was on a road to recovery. The sharpness he showed as a freshman wasn’t there as he spent the first half of the season in a limited role, pitching more to recover than to perform.
Enter 2016 and we have Matt Krook in an eerily similar situation. Both pitchers had phenomenal freshman campaigns, both had to sit out their sophomore years and both returned to a team steeped in hype.
Following a season-and-a-half riding the pine and a Tommy John surgery later, questions flew about what we should expect from Krook this year.
If Irvin was any indication, Krook should carry a light load to start the season. Head coach George Horton will be letting him get real-time looks but won’t let him push himself to the breaking point. There’s no point in winning early if he blows out his arm and isn’t available for the tournament … right?
Now we are a full three series into the season and the situation has changed. Three starts is hardly a reliable sample size; but what better time than the present to compare Krook and Irivn’s return seasons?
Over his first three starts in 2015, Irvin threw 11 innings, (4 ip vs Hawaii, 3 vs New Mexico St. and 4 ip in Santa Barbara.) In fact, Irvin didn’t crack the five-inning mark until his Mar. 22 start at Arizona St.
After Krook’s four-inning season debut in San Diego, it looked like the projections and comparisons were going to tell us the whole story. Krook would work his way back, have a good but not great season and start to contribute further down the stretch.
A week later, he shredded the Illinois St. lineup, striking out eight in seven innings. The two-hit, one-run game showed that time spent playing this summer may indeed have sped up the rehab process. The strikeouts continued to pile up but so did his walks, leaving something to be desired in terms of control. Questions lingered; however, he was already further along than we had expected.
After watching him on Saturday against UCSB, we can’t definitively say that he’s back, but the tempering of our expectations is easing. Krook struck out half of the batters he faced (24) and cut down on his walks (1) but still struggled with control, hitting four batters in six innings.
A look at Irvin’s numbers through three starts last year compared to Krook’s this year is enlightening.
Irvin compiled a .818 ERA/WHIP and BB/9 over 11 innings and a 5.79 K/9 that would only decline by the seasons’ end.
Krook has burst back onto the mound in 2016, more than doubling Irvin’s respective inning total (23) and sporting an impressive 1.17 ERA. The BB/9 (4.3) will have to be minimized but a stellar WHIP (.739) and phenomenal K/9 (14.87) should firmly place him in the national eye.
Despite throwing twice as many innings, Krook’s ERA is only a shade above where Irvin’s sat at this time last year. Krook’s K/9 might not be sustainable depending on the workload that Horton wants to saddle him with. Strikeout pitchers tend to throw more pitches per game and Horton will want Krook healthy for the postseason.
Durability and control – he allowed 3.79 BB/9 before his surgery – are the biggest problems facing the lefty who appears to be picking up where he left off as a freshman.
Keeping an eye on how Horton uses Krook this weekend against difficult SEC competition will give us a better idea of what the skipper wants to do with the valuable starter. The Ducks are playing in Tuscaloosa this evening before heading to Starkville for a three-game series with No. 20 Mississippi State.
Top Photo by Dave Peaks