In their most frustrating offensive effort of the year, the Buckeyes collected just three hits, and one run, in a cold 7-1 loss to Michigan State in the weekend series opener.
Lansing, MI – The thermometer in the visiting bullpen read 41 degrees. With wind chill, they said it felt like 36. And with the way the Ohio State Buckeyes swung the bats in Friday night’s series opener with the Michigan State Spartans…well, it barely got above freezing.
The Buckeyes managed just 3 hits off a pair of Spartan pitchers in what coach Bill Mosiello would later claim, “This is as bad as it gets”, on their way to another night that signaled more questions than answers at the mid-point of the 2023 season. The Buckeyes dropped to 14-14, overall, and now just 1-6 in Big Ten play.
More, pitcher Isaiah Coupet did not fare well in a short starting effort and had to leave the game in the bottom of the second inning with an undisclosed injury, thought to be a tweaked hamstring, an aggravation of an injury suffered a week ago. His status going forward is undetermined…not unlike the status of the weekend, and their prospects for righting themselves by season’s end for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament.
Coupet fell to 3-3 on the season, working just 1.2 innings, giving up 4 earned runs on 3 hits, while striking out 3 and walking 2.
But like good baseball teams do, the Michigan State Spartans made the Buckeyes’ junior pay for every misstep, scoring twice in the bottom of the first on a pair of hits, a walk, and a fielder’s choice to jump out to a 2-0 lead.
MSU starter Joe Dzierwa was hardly Christy Mathewson, reincarnate, but the Spartan lefthander mixed pitches, changed speeds, and whatever was left to chill from the frigid night air in downtown Lansing…Dzierwa finished the freeze. He allowed OSU just 1 run on three hits over the first six innings of the game, and frankly…not very many good swings.
MSU added to their 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second after two were out…on a double by DH Jacob Anderson and a walk by Coupet to leadoff hitter Trent Farquhar, the last hitter to face Coupet. With runners on first and second Coupet was replaced by George Eisenhardt out of the bullpen; and Eisenhardt, put in a tough spot, could not locate home plate. He walked the first three hitters he faced, forced in a run, and MSU would ultimately plate a pair of runs to take a 4-0 lead.
Eisenhardt was replaced by Jake Johnson to start the third inning and Johnson responded in spades, pitching two scoreless innings, striking out three, and for the moment, took away some of MSU’s offensive momentum.
Freshman Cole Pauley replaced Johnson in the fifth, and gave up another run on a hit and three walks before he could get the final out. Michigan State led, 5-0.
The Buckeyes finally got on the board in the top of the sixth. With two out, Dzierwa walked first baseman Caden Kaiser. Designated hitter Matt Graveline followed with the only deep strike of the night, a two-out double to the gap in left and Kaiser scored from first base to cut the deficit to 5-1.
But that was it…that was all. Dzierwa was replaced by reliever Andrew Carson in the top of the seventh and Carson finished the freeze of Buckeye bats, pitching the final three innings allowing nothing…no runs, no hits, striking out 4 and walking 2.
The only remaining Buckeyes highlight was a brilliant two-plus innings from Will Pfennig, who pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh before being touched for a pair of runs in the eighth. Jaylen Jones came on to finish the game, allowing a hit, but no further damage.
How bad a night was it for the Buckeyes?
Walks..the bane of their pitching existence in 2022, came back to haunt, perhaps in part because of interpretation of the strike zone by Big Ten umpires, who are just slightly advanced from the Flintstones. Home plate umpire Daniel Jimenez was tighter than a safe-deposit box Friday night. The Buckeyes walked nine for the game (they struck out nine, as well) and they accounted with the scoring of Michigan State’s first five runs.
And the stadium lights, which flickered twice during the game, finally went out altogether for about two minutes during the top of the eighth inning…as if there was need of a cherry to top off the suffering.
And of course…the loss of Coupet, who never really found his groove, allowing the four runs and forcing Mosiello to go to the bullpen with two outs in the second inning.
“It was pretty anemic,” admitted Mosiello, afterwards, speaking of the offensive effort. “That’s about as bad as it can get. The hits (and not the kind that scores runs) just keep coming.
“The bright spot was the guys out of the bullpen [Johnson, Pauley and Pfennig]. They gave us a chance. They kept us in the game and didn’t let it get lopsided.”
But 1-6 now, heading into a Saturday double-header, the Buckeyes find themselves with their backs to the wall in the Big Ten conference standings.
While Michigan State is 5-2 and sits in fourth place – the league’s surprise thus far after Friday’s win – the Buckeyes find themselves at the bottom of the stack – 13th.
A bounce back and some competitive energy on Saturday is critical to have any chance at clawing their way back into the race for conference tournament seeding…with ‘heavies’ Maryland, Michigan, and Iowa still looming.
“If we knew what to do we’d be doing it,” fumed Mosiello as he prepared to leave the stadium Friday night. “Play better…it’s just that simple. There’s no magic pills. You can’t go to Wal-Mart and see if you can find something.”
The two teams complete the weekend three-game series with a pair of games on Saturday, beginning at 1:05 pm. You can listen to the action on FM 97.1 (The Fan) with Matt Andrews and Bob Spears.