Published November 20, 2014
The second time around at TCU hasn't been as perfect for Matt Purke, the left-hander who has already been a first-round draft pick once — and could be again next week.
After going 16-0 as a freshman and helping lead the Horned Frogs to their first College World Series last year, Purke (5-1, 1.51 ERA in 10 starts) missed a month this season with shoulder soreness. He has pitched only twice since mid-April, including the Mountain West Conference tournament opener last week.
But Purke appears ready when it matters most for the Frogs (42-17), who are getting ready to host another NCAA regional. He has felt good on the mound since getting a clean bill of health from noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.
"There was nothing wrong with me. I just needed some rest," Purke said. "It was what I needed and just get a clear mind and know what was going on."
Andrew Mitchell (5-1, 3.13) is expected to start the regional opener Friday night against Oral Roberts (36-20).
Frogs coach Jim Schlossnagle will then likely decide between Purke or junior right-hander Kyle Winkler, the Mountain West Conference career leader with 27 wins, to pitch Saturday against Oklahoma (41-17) or Dallas Baptist (39-17), who play the other first-round game at TCU.
"I've rested and now I'm ready for the time when it's necessary," said Purke, who has eight strikeouts while allowing one run in seven innings since returning.
TCU began this season ranked No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball poll with the return of Purke, Winkler and right-hander Steven Maxwell. The starting trio was a combined 39-5 last season and didn't miss any turns in the rotation.
But Maxwell (5-1, 3.13) also missed a month this year because of biceps soreness before starting in the MWC tournament Friday. Winkler (8-2, 1.40) didn't pitch in the conference tournament because of stiffness, though he said it was precautionary.
Even while missing each of the trio at some point, the Frogs still earned a No. 1 seed and hosting role for the NCAA tournament. They won their sixth consecutive Mountain West regular season title with a 20-3 conference record.
"Last year was fairy tale ... Every single player on our team that needed to have a good season had a great season, every single player that needed to stay healthy stayed healthy," Schlossnagle said. "If you had told me going into the year you're going to miss Purke for a month and Maxwell for a month and Winkler is going to be in and out down the stretch, I would have said, 'Yeah, wow, how are we going to overcome that?'"
Even though Purke is only a sophomore, the slender bespectacled lefty with a deceptive three-quarters delivery is eligible for the draft again because his 21st birthday (July 17) is within 45 days of the draft that begins Monday.
"We'll sit back and see what happens," he said.
Purke was the 14th overall pick by the Texas Rangers in 2009, but went to TCU after being unable to reach a deal with the team that was still more than a year from winning its first American League pennant.
"All along our goal with Matt has been to have him for two years, and have him leave here healthy and a high pick," Schlossnagle said. "He should feel very indebted to TCU, and we are very indebted to him because of the effort that he gave us last year and the effort that he continues to give this year."
Even though Purke was bothered by a blister on his pitching hand at the start of the season, then missed a month because of the shoulder soreness, he said he has matured by "leaps and bounds" at TCU and become a better pitcher. And he still has no regrets about not going pro straight out of high school two years ago.
"Not a single one," he said. "Not a single one."
TCU has already this season played each of the teams in its regional. The Frogs lost on consecutive days in April at Dallas Baptist and then home against Oklahoma. They also lost on the road against the Sooners, and beat Oral Roberts at home.
The Frogs are hosting a regional for the third consecutive year, and playing in their eighth straight NCAA tournament under Schlossnagle.
"It's kind of amazing how you draw it up. Before my freshman year, we had never hosted a regional or done anything like that," Winkler said. "Then my freshman year, we host a regional and make it to a super (regional). The year after that, we make it to a super again and win it and we're in Omaha. Hopefully this year the progression keeps going. If I'm lucky, I'll have a national championship ring."