NORMAN — Oklahoma baseball coach Sunny Golloway suggests a late addition to the Big 12's roll call of acknowledged aces: his own Jordan John.
As it is, Oklahoma State's Andrew Heaney, Texas A&M's Michael Wacha and Baylor's Josh Turley command the bulk of the buzz in a league deep in quality pitching. And for good reason, with that trio a combined 24-1 this season.
But John's been stout, too, ranking tied for third in the league in wins (8) — with the aforementioned Big Three — fourth in innings pitched (102 2/3) and fifth in strikeouts (92).
So where's the love for John?
It's coming, if delayed … by Golloway himself.
John started the season as the Sooners' closer and worked exclusively out of the bullpen until the second week of Big 12 play.
“If anything,” Golloway said, “I did Jordan a disservice by not allowing him to be our Friday night guy after the year he had last year.
“But I told him, ‘You're so calm, you're so poised, you're going to be our best closer.'”
The Sooners seemed stacked with quality arms for the rotation, yet lacked a back-end guy to drop the hammer on wins. And John fit the description, because of his stuff and his mentality.
“He wants to be in the spotlight,” Golloway said. “He wants to be in the pressure.”
And he was good in several roles, ranging from closer to long reliever when needed.
Yet there was always a sense that he might be miscast; that the spotlight of Friday night Big 12 starter could be his thing.
So Golloway abruptly shifted John to the No. 1 rotation spot. He's gone just 4-2 since, but beyond the numbers is a string of quality starts and no-decisions that don't fully tell the story.
John gave the Sooners 8 2/3 shutout innings in an eventual extra-inning win over Baylor — the Bears' first league loss of the season. He battled Heaney in the Bedlam opener, taking a hard-luck loss while allowing three runs over eight innings. There was a 7 1/3-inning no-decision at Texas A&M, when he allowed two earned runs.
So consider John a fit for the front of the rotation, headlining an underrated staff capable helping OU make some noise both in next week's Big 12 Tournament and in the postseason, if the Sooners are included.
“Well, I don't want to give it up,” the junior from Corpus Christi, Texas, said about his starting role. “I'm going to continue what I do, stay motivated, stay hungry and hopefully good things will continue happening.”
While John didn't officially get the Baylor win, his stamp was all over the decision. He dominated the Bears throughout, having allowed but five hits with five strikeouts when he left after 117 pitches.
And you could tell, he enjoyed every minute of that spotlight, in a must-win series for the Sooners.
“Oh, I loved it,” said John, who is now 8-5 with four saves and a 2.23 ERA. “I was king of the castle out there on the mound. I was feeling great. I was laughing and joking around out there. Even when it's a 0-0 game, you've got to have fun. You've got great guys behind you, everybody's playing for you and pulling for you.
“You've got to take advantage of every opportunity you can. And winning a Big 12 series at home against a very tough opponent, that's good stuff.”
Baylor coach Steve Smith found himself impressed.
“Jordan John looked like a different human being than I remember,” Smith said. “He looked like 30 pounds bigger. And he maintained his (velocity) for nine innings. He was good.”
Golloway insists his ace belongs in the conversation with Heaney, Wacha and Turley.
“For me, Heaney, without question,” Golloway said, “I saw it firsthand, he's a first-rounder. He's special. You could argue there's some other guys, but here's the thing, those three guys sat on Friday nights from Week 1.
“And I didn't do that with Jordan. He said, ‘I'll do it coach. I'll be the long relief guy. I'll be the middle relief guy. I'll be the closer.' And he was just really good about it.
“But let's not let that affect our conversations when we talk about who the best two or three pitchers in the league are. He clearly ranks right there with them. He just didn't have as much opportunity as the other guys had, because of a decision I made.”
Looking back, Golloway doesn't necessarily regret the decision to work John out of the bullpen.
“It was probably best for our team at the time,” he said.
Golloway definitely delights in the decision to shift John to No. 1 starter.
“He's got a lot of stuff to back it up,” Golloway said. “He doesn't have all the wins. But more than anything, he comes in every time, and even though we don't score and we take him out, he's the loudest, most vocal guy in our dugout. ‘Hey, let's go. We're going to win this game.'
“He's just good for our team in every facet”