I'm trying to find a common ground for Ohio State stuff on Buckeye State Baseball and the Buckeye Nine.
Obviously the Buckeye Nine provides me a chance to breakdown and discuss the finer points of OSU Baseball, while BSB provides a larger audience to produce and deliver news to.
There probably will be stories over there I won't post here, at least in their entirity, to save the overwhelming reading and posts.
But until the season starts and a divide occurs here is a little story on junior Drew Rucinski...
Buckeye State Baseball's feature on the key member on the Buckeyes' staff
It’s hard to believe a pitcher could go 12-2 during his sophomore season and not be the focal point of the pitching staff of a nationally ranked team. The 12 wins would rank fifth nationally yet few around the country would know the name next to the tally. Welcome to the life of Ohio State right-handed pitcher Drew Rucinski.
On a pitching staff that would see two become All-Americans a year ago in ace Alex Wimmers and closer Jake Hale, as well as a weekend starter pick up his 18th career victory at the conclusion of his sophomore season in Dean Wolosiansky, Rucinski quietly did his job with little fanfare. The native of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma was anything but broken, as Rucinski would be the bandage Coach Bob Todd called on to close the gap from starter to closer, game after game after game.
For a team that exceeded every expecatation and truly was one family with a common goal, each player providing key contribution, it is hard to say there was a Most Valuable Player for Ohio State in 2009. Afterall catcher Dan Burkhart was the Big Ten’s Player of the Year, Wimmers the co-Pitcher of the Year, and the exploits of outfielders Michael Stephens and Zach Hurley, as well as infielders Cory Kovanda and Ryan Dew have been spoke of here. Yet what Rucinski brought to the team could surly be argued as most valuable.
For a pitching staff that was depleted the entire season, with Josh Barrera not fully recovered from surgery, Andrew Armstrong going down for most of the season after just 4 weeks, and freshman Ross Oltorik missing the last 6 weeks of the season, Ohio State’s pitching depth was paper-thin. The injuries would coincide with a compacted 13-week schedule to adjust to the universal start date providing more midweek games for a group of pitchers that was only 11 deeps.
It would be pretty at times with Ohio State being forced to use weekend starts midweek, having opponents score 20+ runs three times in Ball State, Georgia, and Florida State, but the Bucks were able to battle to a 42-19 record and win their first Big Ten title since 2001, in no small part to Rucinski.
The lanky Rucinski out of the bullpen would finish with 74.2 innings pitched, a number that rivaled weekend starters Wolosiansky (92.1) and Eric Best (75.2). A number that is astonishing considering Rucinski wasn’t throwing once every weekend, more often it would be two or three, even four times a week.
Coming out of the pen in 36 games, more than half of Ohio State’s 61 games, Rucinski posted the 12-2 record with 2 saves, going nearly 2.1 innings every time out. Considering Hale would toss another 55 innings in 40 games, roughly 1.2 innings every time he toed the rubber, combined with Rucinski the bullpen anchors would toss almost four innings or a nine-inning game. When starters are desired to go at least six innings, for the duo to pick up the slack for almost half a game, speaks to how strongly the two were relied on.
For the season Rucinski would finish with a 5.54 ERA with 62 strikeouts against 32 base on balls and 85 hits allowed for an opponents batting average of .288. Though his numbers would be more than solid, how the numbers were compiled is what is amazing of Rucinski’s sophomore season.
As Ohio State would go 3-4 in their seven postseason games between the Big Ten Tournament and Tallahassee NCAA Regional, Rucinski would be the winning pitcher in all three.
Where Wimmers would struggle against Illinois in the Buckeyes BTT opener Rucinski tossed 1.2 innings of no-hit baseball as the Buckeyes rallied in the bottom of the 7th and 8th innings with two runs in each to win 7-4.
As Ohio State faced elimination against Marist Rucinski once again picked up five outs without allowing a run as the Bucks picked up their 5th run in the bottom of the 6th on their way to winning 6-4.
Less than 24 hours later, once again Rucinski picked up five outs relieving Best after 4.2 innings, yielding just a run against Georgia as Ohio State picked up their final victory of the season eliminating the Bulldogs.
The season would come and go with little spotlight on Rucinski, but those who followed the Buckeyes and on the team would know what he meant. If trouble ever arose in the 6th through 8th innings a peak into the Bucks bullpen and see Rucinski warming up would quiet all concerns as Scarlet & Gray faithful knew the Bucks were in good hands before turning the ball over to lights-out closer Hale.
Though Rucinski would be roughed up in spots as evident when Florida State would score eight runs in .2 innings as Rucinski came back to the mound just hours after defeating Georgia and the third time in 24 hours, when counted on he delivered. He accepted his role and the heavy workload and proved to be a vital cog in the Bucks machine.
As the 2010 season is approaching a heavier burden may be placed on Rucinski. Best would have off-season surgery, so to did Armstrong leaving the Buckeyes without those two arms to start the season and an opening in the weekend rotation. The extremely large void left by the graduation of Hale needs filled. Ross Oltorik who big things were expected of is temporarily shelved with a shoulder bug, outside of Wimmers and Wolosiansky, no other healthy Buckeye pitcher has more than 50 career innings, except Rucinski.
After two very successful summers in the Valley League where Rucinski was named the top prospect after the 2008 summer, and the third-best player after 2009, the option to start Rucinski and insert him into the rotation is there. A proven successful starter on the summer circuits, Rucinski would go 3-1, with a 3.22 ERA, striking out 48 in 44.2 against 14 walks and a .230 OBA in 12 games in 2009, given the chance to start Rucinski would relish. However Coach Todd would reveal that Rucinski will be the team’s closer for the first couple of weeks in starting the 2010 season.
Though the search to find the third starter in the rotation will be an open-tryout of sorts for the first handful of weekends, whoever starts has the relief of knowing Rucinski will be there to close the door on the opposition. Perhaps Todd knows his Bucks are better served having Rucinski ending two potential Ohio State wins with the ability to toss two innings every outing than giving the Buckeyes a chance to pick up just one win.
In whatever role, Rucinski has shown the ability to succeed. The individual glory may not continue to escape Rucinski for long, a closer by nature has more of a stage than a set-up man. However as Ohio State collectively has the attention of the national audience, Rucinski is content with quietly doing his job to keep the Buckeyes moving.
Audio of Rucinski answering a few questions during the OSU Media Day can be found in the original story here.