For want of hitting and a lost inning of momentum, the Buckeyes drop their Big Ten opener to the Gophers…and 9-12 on the season.
Columbus – A month ago Greg Beals was extolling the virtues of his lineup for its ability to make contact up and down the batting order. Friday, in the Buckeyes’ Big Ten opener against Minnesota at Bill Davis Stadium, he could have been rethinking those virtues.
For whatever reason, through 21 games the Buckeyes (9-12, 0-1 Big Ten) have been on again – off again, as it relates to the batting order, and, as it pertains to taking advantage of a well-pitched game. When the pitchers have been good, the hitters have been silent. When the hitters have made noise, the pitchers have allowed even more noise.
Friday it was righthander’s Jake Post’s turn at the roulette wheel. The senior from Indiana pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs on seven hits, striking out 5 and walking a pair, before turning a 2-2 game over to the bullpen after OSU had scored twice in the bottom of the six to tie the game.
From there it went south. The combination of Joe Stoll (.1 of an inning) and Seth Kinker (.2 of an inning) gave the two runs right back to the Gophers (12-8, 1-0 Big Ten) and the offense never threatened again. The Buckeyes had two hits over the final three innings, never a runner past second base, and struck out five times in their last nine at bats
Minnesota had taken the lead with single runs in the third and fifth innings off Post before OSU tied it in the bottom of the sixth on a single by second baseman Noah West, a stolen base, a passed ball, an error that allowed center fielder Tre Gantt to reach, another passed ball, and a single by catcher Jacob Barnwell.
Then, needing a “zero” in the top of the seventh to maintain their momentum, the bullpen could not oblige.
“It was a critical part of the game,” said Beals afterwards. “We go to the bullpen, we think we have the matchups we can take advantage of, and we give the two runs right back. I thought we had some momentum. If we could have put a zero up there in the top of the seventh we could have come back to the plate with a tie and the momentum still in our court. We lost it (the momentum) in the top of the seventh.”
If it negated the effort of Jake Post, it magnified the effort of Gophers’ starter Lucas Gilbreath who pitched 6.2 innings of 4-hit baseball, while striking out seven.
“Gilbreath was good,” added Beals. “He worked both sides of the plate with his fastball. He pitched inside. He did a good job of keeping our hitters off balance. His off-speed wasn’t great, but he threw enough strikes with it to be effective.”
The lack of hitting has to be a concern, now through 21 games – that and the number of strikeouts throughout the Buckeye lineup.
“We had the five hits and only one extra base hit,” said Beals. “And we had ten strikeouts. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got strikeouts in our stats. They’re there and we can’t erase that. But we’ve got to do better. We had some loud outs today, but we’ve got to be better.”
Due to concerns about Sunday’s weather forecast, that game has been moved up to Saturday now as part of a double-header, and an early “must” test for a team struggling to find some consistency…struggling to find its way.
“They’re all big,” said Jalen Washington. “But we’ve got to win one first. So we go out at noon and attack and after that we try to get the second one.”
On a positive note, Jake Post’s story continues to build towards a fulfilling climax. Another quality outing on Friday after a year’s layoff with elbow surgery did nothing but further bolster his confidence.
“It was very hard just sitting last year and watching my teammates play,” he said Friday, before leaving the clubhouse. “It’s nice to have regular work now, and a good daily routine. Today was a little like my last three starts, an inning or two to settle in and then I felt very comfortable for the remainder of my six innings.
“It’s been hard to come back from the feeling that your arm is never going to feel the same again, but now that I’ve gotten through all of the protocol of rebuilding my arm, and with the starting role I have, it feels great.”
Unfortunately, he’s pitched well enough to have better than a 1-1 record.
“There have been games where we’ve been hot on the mound, and hot at the plate, but not both at the same time,” says Post. “But I think, like last year, as the season goes on we’re going to figure it out. I think everyone will get a little more comfortable and those pieces will all start to fit together.”
And there’s no time like the present as the Buckeyes tee it up again at noon Saturday for the second game of the series. Lefthander Connor Curliss will get the start in the first game of the double-header.
Notes: Third baseman Brady Cherry continues to show signs of consistency at the plate. He had two of the Buckeyes’ five hits in Friday’s loss. Freshman Noah West, inserted at second base last week as Noah McGowan was moved into right field to provide more offensive punch, went one for three against the Gophers. West is now 6 for 17 in limited appearances at the plate, for a .353 average. Catcher Jacob Barnwell continues to swing a consistent bat. The sophomore from Catlettsburg, Kentucky had a hit Friday to raise his average to .297. Connor Curlis makes his third start Saturday, attempting to build on a string of consecutive strong showings. He has a 2-0 record with an ERA of 2.70.