The one pre-season worry for Greg Beals and the Buckeyes turns out now not to be the unknown which they feared. It’s now an old nemesis they know quite well.
Champaign – Had you told Greg Beals back in February that his starting pitching would go into places like Maryland and Illinois and do what they’ve done against two of the more prohibitive programs in the Big Ten, he would have taken it.
Pitching, you see, was a big concern back then.
How would the weekend rotation respond behind the one true “known” from his freshman and sophomore season…Tanner Tully?
How would senior John Havard respond to the opportunity thrust upon him, of taking the place of Boston’s fourth-round pick in last June’s draft, Travis Lakins?
How would redshirt soph Adam Niemeyer live up to the promise he showed last year in limited time, coming back from Tommy John to look brilliant against nationally-ranked Louisville and in a late season start at Indiana. Could he take the next step?
Well, for a time Beals’ questions in all of these regards have been answered. A healthy Tanner Tully has been masterful, having just the one uncharacteristic start last week against Rutgers in a series-opening loss at Bill Davis Stadium
John Havird took a no-hitter into the ninth inning of a numbing loss to Maryland two weeks ago…and has been nothing but consistent, and effective, since.
And Niemeyer has come back from a hamstring pull against Bethune Cookman to pitch as though he means to help anchor any chance the Buckeyes have now to qualify for the Big Ten tournament, which looms just a scant month away.
And they’re gonna’ need an anchor, for while pitching was the worry back then, when Beals and his staff climbed on the Buckeye bus for the hotel on Friday he might have noticed a familiar face that’s come back to haunt him. Actually, it was the absence of the face that’s come to haunt. His offense!
Good pitching, they say, always beats good hitting, and that’s just what’s happened in the four games played now against Maryland and Illinois, two of the three teams that decimated the Bucks’ chances for the post-season during last May’s swoon.
For lack of a big hit then, the Bucks dropped two of three to Maryland at Bill Davis.
For lack of a big hit they dropped three in a row to Illinois.
And for lack of a big hit they went to Indiana on the heels of those losses and were swept in that series to the Hoosiers.
For lack of offense…eight of nine!
But the good news now is that Tully is healthy, Havird is having the kind of year once projected for the Arizona native, and Niemeyer has taken full advantage of his own opportunity.
In their past three starts the trio has combined for a record of 5-2 with an earned run average of 2.82. Tully leads in ERA with a 2.12, and Niemeyer and Havird have four wins.
Friday night Tully was simply electric, moving the ball around the strike zone, changing speeds, and keeping a prolific Illinois batting order off stride.
And the defense, which got off to such a questionable start in the three pre-season weeks in Florida, was again superlative behind him – Nick Sergakis making a diving stab in the hole at third, double plays to kill rallies, and Troy Montgomery running down a pair of deep shots to center if they were infield flies.
But now the old nemesis…Beals has to be concerned about a quiet offense of which he was sure to be productive back in February, during the pre-season, and truly, through the Big Ten opening series with Northwestern.
Jacob Bosiokovic has seen his average dip beneath .300 for the first time this year…his last home run coming in the series finale with Bethune Cookman. Like the others, he struggled with the strikeout bug Friday against Illini starter Cody Sedlock.
Leadoff hitter Troy Montgomery started Friday night hitting .277, hit the ball hard three times, but had nothing to show for it. He finished the night at .269.
Freshman designated hitter Brady Cherry, who just a month ago was tearing it up in the middle of the order, has dipped to a season-low .236.
Catcher Jalen Washington had a good night at the plate on Friday, pounding a pair of singles to left field, but his average over the month hovers at .242.
And Craig Nennig, who three weeks ago was hammering his first three collegiate home runs, has since settled down to .225.
Only Ronnie Dawson continues on the incline, going 1 for 6 Friday, and after a horrendous Florida start now sits on the threshold of hitting .300.
And Nick Sergakis holds at .375 for the year. He hit the ball hard three times Friday, and went 1 for 4.
No, the question for this baseball team is not presently its starting pitching, or even the bullpen, which threw five innings of near-spotless baseball Friday, spread between Seth Kinker, Mike Horejsei, Yianni Pavlopoulos, and eventual losing pitcher, Kyle Michalik.
The question now is the guy looming in the shadows, over the immediate future of this baseball team, which badly needs to win its remaining five series to qualify for the Big Ten tourney…which badly needs to flood light onto some of the shadows of its past.
The quiet guy in the back of the bus….!