Monday, April 13, 2009 3:13 AM
By Mark Znidar
The Columbus Dispatch
The drill for Ohio State pitchers in a typical round of batting practice is as exciting as scrubbing a floor. If they're not shagging baseballs in the outfield, they're catching the balls that have been shagged and tossing them into a bucket behind a screen at second base.
It's about to get more interesting.
"With coach (Bob) Todd, we had kind of a little bet going that if we give up less than six walks and hit only one batter during a series that we'd have some batting practice for the pitchers," left-hander Eric Best said.
For the pitching staff, it will be batter up after the Buckeyes defeated Michigan State 6-1 yesterday for a sweep of their three-game Big Ten series in Bill Davis Stadium.
In 27 innings, Ohio State gave up four walks and hit one batter. The pitchers also gave up only five earned runs and 17 hits.
Best, a junior from Olentangy Liberty, did his best to keep the numbers low by giving up two hits and striking out two in five innings as yesterday's starter. The run he gave up was unearned.
Drew Rucinski gave up two hits in three innings, and Jake Hale worked a perfect ninth.
"It's fun," Best said of batting practice. "You have guys who didn't hit in high school looking terrible, and some guys who can mash the ball."
Shortstop Tyler Engle might not agree with the mashing part. "It's comical," he said. "But it's fun to watch. Now, we'll have to shag for them."
The Spartans (11-21, 3-6) are a bottom feeder in the conference, and the Buckeyes (26-7, 6-3) made sure they stayed that way with impressive fundamental baseball for three days in less-than-ideal conditions.
Yesterday, Ohio State had two extra-base hits -- doubles by Dan Burkhart and Cory Rupert -- but was extraordinary in working the count for four walks and moving runners by going with the pitch.
"We did exactly what we needed to do," Todd said. "We executed better all weekend (than Michigan State) and pitched better all weekend. That's what good teams have got to do. We talk all the time about making adjustments. The thing with the pitchers is, they are going out there and throwing strikes."
The sweep was a shot in the arm for two reasons. The Buckeyes had played 27 of their first 29 games on the road and had lost three of their previous four games.
"I made the comment to the players before the season started that bragging that we won a series is not good enough with the conference going to three-game series" instead of four games, Todd said. "Eight losses won't win the conference."
Chilly, windy conditions kept the crowds down -- attendance was 927 yesterday -- but the players enjoyed being back home.
"There's no place like home and being in front of the home fans," Engle said.