Sixty days removed from the Buckeyes 2024 baseball opener, here’s a look at the early games in West – warm weather, hot competition, and a revelation of just how far they’ve come in a year under the new regime.
To the growing list of people who have come to read about Ohio State ‘baseball’ since 2014, we’ll break up the holiday shopping monotony with some words on the most anticipated sport in December…if you’re a Buckeye baseball fan.
Admittedly, there’s not enough of you…yet!
But, can there be an easier group for which to root in 2024, than Ohio State baseball?
It feels like half the football team is either in the portal, or transferring, prior to the upcoming bowl game.
And the basketball team’s bullpen just blew an 18-run lead on Saturday against Penn State.
And then…there’s that nine-game win streak to close out the 2023 season, along with the emergence of a core-group of players returning in 2024. Responding to our November 19 column on the wrap up of fall practice (Mosiello Looks To Challenge in 2024), a reader from Cleveland wrote, “What about starting 2024 with a nine-game win streak?”
You ask? You receive.
The official schedule was released a couple of weeks ago, and owing to the title of this column, it’s revealing, Bill Mosiello keeping true to his challenge to make this program competitive with the best in college baseball, and as quickly as possible. They open on February 16, in Scottsdale, Arizona, in a corporate-sponsored three game series that includes USC, long one of the West Coast bluebloods, and owners of 12 national titles…but none since 1978!
After an off day they move to Phoenix to play Grand Canyon on February 20, then to Tempe for a four-game series with Arizona State (five national titles, the last in 1981). What’s interesting about these early games is the irony of playing teams, that like Ohio State, hunger for the kind of sustainability that they once had…that Mosiello has sworn to reclaim for the Buckeyes.
After a four-day return home the Buckeyes again go west, to Las Vegas, on March 1, to play a three-game series with Cal (Berkeley), Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma, two of the three teams they played last year in the Frisco Classic, in Texas.
Then…a four-game series at Cal Poly, at San Luis Obispo, March 8 thru 11, Cal-Fullerton on March 13, and West Virginia (in Morgantown) on March 15-17 before finally coming home on March 22-24 for the home-opening series against Georgetown.
Is it possible to start with nine-game win streak?
I guess, but not likely. And not likely at any level of baseball.
Well, pitching, for one…because the lack of sustainable (there’s that word again) consistency on the mound was this group’s greatest challenge in 2023. The numbers don’t lie, regardless of how tiresome they become…or how tired you become of reading about them. Too many walks, first and foremost – 285 in 481 innings pitched. 21 times Buckeye pitchers walked the leadoff hitter, the cardinal sin of baseball; because looking back it feels like all 21 one of them scored.
It’s right there in Doubleday’s notes when he invented the game at West Point back in 1842: Don’t walk the #%@&* leadoff hitter!
But to a man, everyone returning to the staff this spring speaks of improvement in that respect. They’re aware, dedicated, and again with the title…challenged to do better in 2024!
This team is going to score runs…guaranteed. I’ve asked him so often that when he sees me coming now Bill Mosiello turns and hurries the other way. He’s convinced that the overall offensive approach has come that far – swinging at better strikes, taking more pitches, working the count, and putting pressure on opposing pitchers.
Trey Lipsey returns to the outfield and the top of the batting order…healthy, motivated, adding speed to the lineup in the respect that we saw in 2022.
Mitchell Okuley has a lone remaining year in right field, thanks to Covid and grad school, and the challenge for this line drive machine is to get started with the line drives before ‘tax day’. A puzzling slow starter in the past, he’s done his best work after April 15, when no one can seem to get him out.
Josh Stevenson has moved from 2023 national champion LSU to the Buckeyes program and would seem to have the inside track on centerfield. If he hits it’s solid gold, because he can sure go get the baseball on defense.
Junior infielder Tyler Pettorini quietly led the team in hitting in 2023 (.315, 4 homers and 28 RBIs), because he did it largely as a designated hitter. This year he’s dedicated himself to be the starting third baseman.
Henry Kaczmar and Matt Graveline, at shortstop and behind the plate, respectively, both made the All-Big Ten freshman team last year, hitting .293 and .287, with a combined 11 home runs and 91 runs batted in.
And there’ll be competition for the remaining spots on the field, with Tennessee transfer Ryan Miller (Dublin Jerome) getting a lot of time at first base in the fall…and top recruits Clay Burdette (Moeller) and Mason Eckelman (Walsh Jesuit) waiting in the wings.
So yes, this team will score runs, even in Arizona, and even against all those perennial NCAA teams that pop up in the regional tournaments every year. But to be redundant…the issue is pitching.
Gavin Bruni, Texas Corpus Christi transfer Colin Purcell, and Landon Beidelschies are projected as the Friday-thu-Sunday starters, but at this point it’s in blueprint form, and not a poured foundation. Behind them there are a slew of talented development arms that caught your attention in fall baseball.
And to the core points of baseball, every other deficiency from the past improved in 2023 – fielding percentage, stolen bases, and yes…a dramatic improvement in pitching over the final six weeks, including that nine-game win streak.
Can they challenge the Big Ten in 2024? As much as any other team can claim at this point, because they all lost key talent to graduation and the draft. But now you know what they’re up against, when and where. Plenty of good seats, as they say, are still available for the first 16 games.
And Arizona is lovely in February…compared to central Ohio!