The Washington Husky baseball team was coming off three straight losses heading into a big early Pac-12 series against Washington State last weekend.
There are a lot of games in a baseball season, but it seemed crucial that the Huskies turn things around quickly.
Thanks in part to redshirt sophomore catcher Johnny Tincher, the Huskies did so in a big way.
Washington swept the three-game set against the Cougars to improve to 12-8 and 4-2 in the Pac-12 heading into this weekend’s three-game series at Arizona State.
Tincher went 7 for 13 against WSU with a homer and four runs batted in as Washington won 3-2, 8-2 and 14-3.
Tincher improved his batting average to a team-leading .380 (among players with more than two at-bats), 65 percentage points better than Coby Morales, who is second at .315. Tincher is second on the team in homers (three) and first in runs batted in.
The Huskies have reason to be happier than they were just more than a week ago after a 5-4 nonconference loss at home to Portland. That came after two losses to end their opening Pac-12 series against Utah.
Tincher said the players met after the loss to Portland.
“We told ourselves that we’re going to do everything we can to be a tough out,” he said. “Everybody is going to contribute, and honestly, we just had a great team talk. We’re going to hold each other accountable. We’re not going to win every game, but we’re going to compete and be the toughest team for every team we play.”
The Huskies, led by Tincher, made it tough for WSU.
“The confidence is there, and I am going to come into every game with that confidence,” he said.
It would have been hard to predict Tincher’s offensive explosion coming into the year. He entered the season with four hits in 35 at-bats while playing sparingly his first two years at UW.
Tincher’s fast offensive start has even surprised assistant coach Andy Jenkins, who works with the team’s catchers. Jenkins was stressing defense and handling the pitching staff with Tincher.
“One of the important things on winning teams and a good, solid pitching staff is quality catching,” Jenkins said. “Somebody who can really receive first, throw and block, and work with pitchers and the pitching coach. My hope was to lock him in to be the best defensive catcher and leader he could be.
“He believed in himself as a hitter and he’s a tough kid. He looked at me and said, ‘I can hit, too.’ It wasn’t that I didn’t think he could hit. I just wanted him to crawl before he could walk. He’s done an outstanding job.”
Tincher said he told Washington head coach Lindsey Meggs at his exit meeting last year that he would do whatever it took to be a team leader and the starting catcher.
“I worked so hard in the summer and I told myself I am going to come back next year and compete, because I love competing,” said Tincher, from Sylmar, California. “I am going to do everything I can to be that guy.”
Tincher, 5 feet 8 and 185 pounds, relishes the tough job of being a catcher.
“I like taking foul balls to the chest; it’s fun,” he said. “I love the pain. I have always been a catcher and I am never not going to love it.”
Jenkins said Tincher provides what pitchers and coaches want at the position, from receiving to blocking to throwing.
“He’s a short, compact catcher who has really soft hands and can work for some strikes in the zone for our guy,” Jenkins said. “He doesn’t have a blazing-gun arm, but he is very accurate. One of the things he does — as good anyone I have coached — is block the baseball. Not just breaking balls and changeups that we are trying to bounce, but it’s the spiked fastball, which is tough sometimes, with the velocity our guys throw.”
Said Tincher: “I am not 6-foot, but I am going to play like I am 6-foot.”
Jenkins said Tincher is coachable and quickly responded to hitting advice.
“He was pretty stiff in his batting stance,” Jenkins said. “I tried to free him up and give him some rhythm — from the bottom of the toes to the top of the head. We call it dancing with the pitcher, giving himself some real fluid prepitch motions that will allow him to be a little more athletic when he goes at the ball. I think if you look at his video from the beginning of the fall (until now,) just in his batting stance and rhythm, it’s night and day.”
Said Tincher: “Stay loose, stay confident and see the ball well. Trust your eyes. Stay loose with my hands, rhythm wise. (Jenkins) is all about rhythm and I am all about rhythm. And I feel like I have a great rhythm going, seeing the ball and putting it in play.”
The Huskies will try to sustain their momentum against the Sun Devils. Tincher said he likes what he sees from his team, and enjoys being a big part of it.
“This team is by far the best I have ever played for,” he said. “We have the best guys offensively, the best guys defensively and the best pitching staff, and I feel like we have best coaches as well. We’re a young team and we can learn and progress together to be the best team.
“I love it. I love coming out to practice ever day. The energy here is by far the best I have experienced. We’re family. We’re brothers.”
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.