Wood's Senior Season Off to a Great Start

Wood's Senior Season Off to a Great Start

As a four-year player for the Longhorns, Austin Wood has seen a lot of ups and downs in his career in Austin. After very successful freshman and sophomore years, Wood struggled through the first half of last season. With a new arm slot and renewed confidence with a midyear change, Wood finished last season as the team's most reliable pitcher. This season, he takes the mound as the closer.

Austin Wood was desperately searching for answers near the midway point of last season. The Longhorns had just been swept at home in a three-game series for the first time since 1996. Their opponent, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, helped run Texas' Big 12 record to an uncharacteristically sub-par 8-10.

That weekend, Wood started the Sunday contest and surrendered five runs in five innings. After posting 3.15 earned run averages in each of his first two seasons at Texas, his ERA had ballooned to 5.96 through his first 45.1 innings as a junior.

The left-hander began searching for ways out of his slump a few weeks earlier, while the team was playing in Lubbock.

"I was warming up in the Texas Tech game last year," Wood said. "I was having trouble locating and stuff, so [pitching coach Skip Johnson] just had me drop down to three-quarters to get a feel for something. Ever since Texas Tech last year, we've been working on it."

Following a brief adjustment period, Wood began to feel comfortable with the new arm slot. One weekend after the ‘Horns were swept by Oklahoma State, Wood took the hill in a Sunday rubber match against Kansas State. The Kingwood native posted his best start in over a month, as he worked into the eighth inning and allowed only two runs.

For the remainder of the season, Wood became perhaps the Longhorns' most reliable pitcher. He finished off the 2008 season with a 2.93 ERA in his final 40 innings. Over that span, Wood worked into the eighth inning in three of his five starts.

Wood used a three-quarters arm slot during his outstanding 2006 campaign, but he switched to an over-the-top delivery while working with current pitching coach Skip Johnson during the following two years.

"I was three-quarters my freshman year and I had some success," he said. "Me and Skip, with him coming in after my freshman year, I changed some things up."

After his first-half struggles in 2008, the pitcher returned to what had previously worked. Wood believes the change has made him a better pitcher.

"We finally realized and got back to it last year," said Wood of going back to three-quarters. "Ever since midway last year it has just carried over. Ever since I changed it, it has given me a lot of confidence, a lot of life on my fastball, and it has just been more deceptive."

The increased movement and deception continues to pay dividends for Wood, who already has two victories and a save this season.

"We've been getting great starting pitching," he said. "That's all we can ask for. I've just been fortunate enough to come into situations when I can get the wins and a save."

While Wood is quick to credit his teammates for putting him in situations to succeed, he deserves a great deal of recognition for his performances in late 2008 and early 2009. And with what Wood feels is a much improved changeup, his senior campaign could be his best yet.

"I think my changeup has come a long way from where it was two years ago and even last year," replied the 22-year-old. "In that arm slot, I have a lot of confidence in all three of my pitches now. I can locate any of my pitches whenever I want and it's a big thing for me, being in the role I'm at right now."

Wood was a workhorse for the Longhorns last season – leading the club in innings pitched – but Coach Augie Garrido elected to put him in the bullpen this year.

The closer's role is something Wood is accustomed to. He logged seven saves in his freshman season and was a versatile swingman as a sophomore. Wood says it doesn't matter what role he's placed in as long as he gets on the field and helps the team win.

"I like them both," said Wood. "I like playing, so I get more opportunities as a reliever. But I don't know – it's fun starting too. If you're fortunate enough to throw a complete game that day, it's a great feeling. But so is getting a save for your team or getting a win out of the bullpen. Regardless, it is fun and I enjoy playing baseball."

Apart from of his role on the field, Wood – one of just two seniors on the pitching staff – has become a leader for the team's talented young hurlers.

"Me and Shinaberry, I think we look at ourselves and everyone else looks at us as the leaders of this pitching staff," Wood said. "With that comes responsibility and taking care of your stuff on and off the field."

As a four-year member of the Longhorns pitching staff, Wood believes this year's squad has better chemistry than past years.

"The good thing about this team is that we can talk to anybody at any given time," he said, "and everyone is willing to talk. It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a senior. If you've got something to say that is important, people are going to listen. And that's really something we haven't had in the past couple of years. I think that's why we're having some success right now."

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