Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Columbus Dispatch: Rotation concerns put Todd in a difficult spot

Monday, April 27, 2009 3:05 AM
By Mark Znidar

The Columbus Dispatch

The phrase "Two out of three ain't bad" perfectly fits the game of baseball.

More often than not, 67 percent success results in championships.

Just the same, Ohio State's 10-6 loss to Northwestern yesterday in Bill Davis Stadium, after winning the first two games of the series, went down hard because of the missed opportunity to sweep the last place team in the Big Ten.

"Obviously, winning two of three is a good weekend," Buckeyes coach Bob Todd said. "As coaches, though, you get a little selfish."

What concerns Todd is the Buckeyes (31-10, 11-4) getting a third straight rocky start from the rotation. Junior Eric Best gave up three runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

On Friday, ace Alex Wimmers allowed four runs in 7 2/3 innings. On Saturday, Dean Wolosiansky was touched for five runs in seven innings.

The trio generally has gotten the job done the first five weekends of Big Ten play. Wolosiansky had been fifth in the conference in ERA and Wimmers was seventh in opponents' batting average at .211.

Is Ohio State, which is tied for first place with Illinois with three series remaining, locked into its rotation?

"To a certain extent, that may be right," Todd said. "You get past our (current starters) and we become suspect."

The options are limited because left-handers Andrew Armstrong (tendinitis) and Josh Barrera (labrum) are rehabilitating from injuries. They have combined to start 14 games.

Todd and pitching coach Eric Parker have discussed moving closer Jake Hale or set-up man Drew Rucinski into the rotation, but either move would have its drawbacks.

No other Big Ten team has a back end of the bullpen like Ohio State. Hale leads the conference in ERA (1.00) and saves (10). Rucinski has been dependable in the seventh and eighth innings.

"That's one of the reasons we don't want to tinker," Todd said.

Catcher Dan Burkhart understands why the rotation might stand pat.

"If we have the lead in the eighth or ninth, we're going to win the game with Hale in there," he said. "Our pitching staff, we're just battling."

The Buckeyes had their chances for the sweep, but they left the bases loaded in the third and fourth innings and stranded 11 base runners for the game.

Shortstop Tyler Engle saluted Northwestern (12-26, 3-10) for playing well.

"You tip your hats to them," he said. "We battled the last two days. In this conference, everybody gives you a good game. We just have that (championship) ring in mind. No one in our locker room has a ring. The guys who played here last year left without a ring. We want a ring."

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