Friday, May 29, 2009
By Mark Znidar
The Columbus Dispatch
By now, everyone who follows Ohio State baseball knows closer Jake Hale can be funny, flamboyant and very much off the wall.
His setup man, on the other hand, can be like a bowl of oatmeal without sugar.
Drew Rucinski, a sophomore right-hander with a sneaky fastball and a snappy slider, prefers to be the player few people know.
"I do like to have fun and I do get excited," Rucinski said. "But as far as practical jokes and things like that, I don't know about that. I laugh at what Jake does and that's about it."
What would you expect from an engineering major and someone who actually is looking forward to a third year in a dormitory?
Rucinski has been far from bland on the mound for an Ohio State team that will play Georgia in an NCAA Tournament regional semifinal today in Tallahasse, Fla.
In 70 2/3 innings over 33 games, Rucinksi is 10-2 with 59 strikeouts and a 4.84 ERA. Most of his appearances have been in the seventh and eighth innings and have come on consecutive days.
The most important statistic is Ohio State (40-17) is 31-3 when it has a seventh-inning lead. Rucinski and Hale have finished most of those games.
"Drew is a special guy that can bounce back for you and give you innings," pitching coach Eric Parker said. "Even on days when we tell him not to throw, he'll throw a little bit. He has just taken a hold of that role and filled it. We've used him a lot. We had to back him off in the middle of the season to keep him fresh."
In a season-opening 2-0 victory over Notre Dame, Rucinski worked the final three innings to get a save for ace Alex Wimmers.
He kept on going.
"I think it's fun being able to get into a lot of games," Rucinski said. "I'm just fortunate that my arm never bothers me. I do play a lot of catch. It probably helps that I started games in high school. I usually take Mondays off and run. I don't get sore. I did get kind of tired pitching three straight games against Penn State."
Rucinski was one of seven freshmen that coach Bob Todd force-fed last season. There were a lot of hard times. He went 1-4 with a 5.52 ERA in 15 appearances covering 29 1/3 innings.
Hale said Rucinski is never the life of the bullpen.
"That guy is focused -- serious -- down there," he said. "He's always thinking about getting himself ready. He's straight-laced. That's OK. I'm the joker, the dude getting the laughs. Drew has been good for me. He has set up a lot of my saves, and I appreciate that."
The question is how did Ohio State sign someone from Broken Arrow, Okla.?
Rucinski grew up in Wisconsin. When he was 8, his father was transferred to Tulsa, Okla.
"It came down to Oklahoma State and Ohio State, the two OSUs," Rucinski said. "I loved it here on my visit."
Parker said Ohio State coaches were tipped off about Rucinski when he was a junior.
"It was the classic friend-of-the-program story and he said, 'There's a kid down here who can pitch and you might want to take a look at him,' " Parker said. "It sure has worked out for us."