ARLINGTON – As he earned nine saves last season, Aaron Nixon appeared to have become the answer at the back end of the Texas bullpen.
But after a rough nine-day stretch, that answer has reverted to a question. And on Saturday afternoon, another stumble didomed the Longhorns in a 4-2 loss to Oklahoma.
With the two-run loss at Globe Life Field, No. 8 Texas slipped to 2-3 in Big 12 play. The Longhorns beat Oklahoma 7-1 in Friday’s opener of the Red River Rivalry series.
“This one stings a little bit,” UT pitcher Tristan Stevens said. “It’s time to just regroup and move on and try to take the series tomorrow.”
Last weekend, Nixon was tagged with two losses at Texas Tech. The first run allowed by the sophomore this season was Kurt Wilson’s walk-off steal of home that Friday night. The next day, Nixon could not convert a save opportunity and three of the runners he allowed to reach base scored on Wilson’s walk-off grand slam.
Nixon recorded a solid inning of relief against Texas A&M on Tuesday. Four days later, however, he was unable to replicate those results.
Nixon entered Saturday’s showdown in the seventh inning after Texas coach David Pierce pulled Stevens, a veteran starter who had allowed runners to reach first and second with one out. Nixon immediately issued a bases-loading walk.
That brought up Peyton Graham, the second hitter in the Oklahoma order. Graham laced a 1-0 offering into the outfield, and two Sooners scored on the single.
“He’s obviously struggling right now,” Stevens said. “A big thing for him is just to trust himself. Baseball’s about how you handle adversity, and the guys that are usually successful are the ones that can come out of it quicker. I think he needs to really buy into that and listen to it . We depend on him; he’s our guy. “
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Even though OU had taken the lead, Texas kept Nixon on the mound. He again loaded the bases with a walk but limited the damage with a strikeout and a groundout to end the seventh. In the eighth, two of the three Sooners who faced Nixon reached base and later scored.
“Things haven’t gone (well) for him yet, but I think our team has a great belief in Aaron,” catcher Silas Ardoin said. “We know what he can do.”
After the game, Pierce expressed regret about taking Stevens out. He did add that he was not thinking about a save situation when he called for Nixon in the seventh inning. Pierce said he felt that Nixon was his best available arm at the time.
When asked if he was concerned about Nixon, Pierce replied: “I’m concerned about our bullpen. I’ve been for a few weeks now.”
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The Longhorns struggled offensively against Oklahoma starter David Sandlin, who started the game with a 6.35 ERA. While facing Arizona at Globe Life Field in February, Sandlin surrendered six runs and eight hits over 4 1/3 innings.
He worked six shutout innings against Texas on Saturday, allowing two hits, walking one and hitting a batter. Texas was retired in order in four of the frames.
With Sandlin having thrown 88 pitches, Oklahoma went to the bullpen in the seventh inning. On the sixth pitch thrown by reliever Trevin Michael, Ardoin hit the ball into the stands near the Texas bullpen.
Ardoin homered again off of Michael in the ninth inning. The Longhorns moved two runners into scoring position in the final frame, but Michael secured his three-inning triumph by getting Dylan Campbell to line out to a diving Diego Muniz in left field.
With Texas unable to complete its rally, Stevens was saddled with the loss. The sixth-year senior was a week removed from a bad outi in Lubbock. In UT’s 16-12 loss to Texas Tech, Stevens did not record an out and surrendered a career-high seven runs.
One week later, Stevens threw 83 pitches over 6 1/3 innings. He allowed six hits and two walks and was responsible for two of Oklahoma’s runs.
Key play: Texas appeared to have Sandlin on the ropes in the sixth inning, but the redshirt sophomore got off the canvas. After two Longhorns got aboard with one out, Sandlin maintained his shutout with strikeouts of Ivan Melendez and Murphy Stehly. Melendez and Stehly were both hitting .400 at the start of Saturday’s game.
The strikeouts weren’t UT’s only concern in the sixth inning. After pulling up while rounding second base, outfielder Eric Kennedy was removed from the game with what Pierce said was a hamstring injury.
Notable number: 13. The first hit of the afternoon for Texas was a fourth-inning single by Stehly. With that two-out knock, Stehly extended his hitting streak to 13 games.
Stehly’s streak is the longest of UT’s season. Ivan Melendez had a team-high 14-game run in 2021. The school record is Michael Torres’ 25-game streak in the 2008 season.
During this streak, Stehly has collected a hit in 27 of his 58 at-bats. Before the streak started, Stehly was already hitting a Texas-topping .438. He exited Saturday’s game with a .452 batting average.
Stehly transferred to UT in 2020 after spending two years at Orange Coast College. He totaled 25 hits over his 90 plate appearances in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Up next: Texas and Oklahoma will close out their three-game series at noon Sunday. UT sophomore Lucas Gordon (2-1, 1.59 ERA) will be opposed by OU’s Chazz Martinez (2-2, 4.45) in a battle of left-handed pitchers.