Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Buckeye State Baseball: While Wimmers Waits, Buckeyes Bullpen Delivers

Buckeye Bullpen has ERA of 1.45 over 37 innings

Heading into 2010, Ohio State had hoped their season would stir thoughts of Bob Seger’s Turn the Page, as they would be somewhere east of Omaha traveling into the mecca of college baseball in the final stages of a storybook season. Unfortunately the Buckeyes are desperately trying not to live Tom Petty’s Free Falling as the team has managed just three wins over the last 11 games.

In a season of turmoil which has seen losses to a Division II school and NAIA program in back-to-back days, barely above .500 play against teams in the RPI top-200, and three straight weekend defeats in Big Ten play which is the first in head coach Bob Todd’s 23 years at the helm, few things have gone right for Ohio State to say the least.

As if things could not be worse, All-American ace Alex Wimmers is still nursing a hamstring injury after missing his last two starts. While the ominous cloud over Bill Davis Stadium seemingly grows by the day, more and more a silver lining is visible, a break in the clouds that could yet yield a bright future for the Buckeyes.

Minutes before the junior right-handed pitcher aimed to collect his 10th win in 10 starts, Wimmers heard a pop. The pop would be a hamstring injury, forcing Coach Bob Todd to scramble for an emergency starter and juggle an already thin bullpen.

While Theron Minium struggled in his first start in three years, out of the bullpen junior Dean Wolosiansky thrived, limiting Michigan to three hits and one run over seven innings. Though the Buckeyes would lose 4-1, Wolosiansky’s performance would be a sign of things to come.

On the first day of May, junior Drew Rucinski pitched the finest game of his career, going nine innings while striking out 10, keeping the Buckeyes in the game as long as he possible could. When Ohio State scored their third run in the top of the 10th, senior Eric Best pitched a 1-2-3 bottom-half to give Ohio State a much needed victory over their archrival.

In the series finale, the trio of Minium, Strayer, and Best would combine for five innings out of the bullpen allowing just one run off two hits. Strayer and Best would pitch perfect 8th and 9th innings, as the Buckeyes fought back from a 5-0 deficit, all the way to 6-5 leaving the tying run at second base in the ninth inning.

While the team morale was low returning to Columbus, losing Wimmers and the Michigan series is as bad as it can get, the emergence of the buckeye bullpen was as big of a statement as any. Throughout the 2010 season Ohio State has struggled to stop the bleeding, or to log quality innings to give their bats a chance to pull out the victory. While still low on numbers the Best-Minium-Strayer combination showed their mettle in a hostile environment.

And it would continue.

In facing the number 10 team in the country in the Louisville Cardinal for a pair of midweek games, the Bucks ‘pen continued to stand tall. Tossing 12.1 innings, allowing 13 hits, seven runs, just four earned runs, while striking out eight against just one walk. The completion of game two saw Best extend his scoreless streak to five innings over the last three games, and as a team, post a 2.97 ERA against one of the nation’s best offenses.

And it would continue.

Fighting blisters, Rucinski pitched admirably, but did not have his best stuff as the Buckeyes loss game one of the opener against Illinois 6-3. Where Rucinski battled through 8.1 innings, Best recorded the final two outs without seeing a run score on his accord. Once again the Buckeye bullpen was up and running.

With Wolosiansky struggling on a brisk and breezy day, after four innings Coach Todd turned to the side-armed Strayer to give the Buckeyes as much as he could. Though Ohio State fell 5-2, dropping below .500 for the first time in Big Ten play since 2008, Strayer turned in his finest effort as a Buckeye, pitching the final five innings without giving up a run, scattering just three hits, while striking out one.

Suddenly the corp of relief pitchers weren’t just being serviceable, they were impressing.

With their backs against the wall, on the verge of falling into last place, Ohio State trailed Illinois 4-1 on Sunday. After two weeks of being stagnant in Big Ten play, Ohio State was able to find their groove at the plate, scoring the last seven runs of the game to win 8-4. Of course in scoring the last seven runs, the Buckeye relief pitchers held the Illini in check once again.

Capping a weekend where not a run was scored off the Bucks bullpen, Minium and Best each threw three innings, picking up the win and save respectively. The two southpaws allowed just two hits each, walked just one batter over their three innings, with Minium striking out two as he improved to 3-2, while Best struck out four in picking up his third save.

The relief effort kept Ohio State from having the dubious honor of falling to last place, a year after winning the program’s 15th Big Ten championship.

While Wimmers continues to rest as it more and more appears the season’s final series against Minnesota will see his return to the mound, thanks in large part to the Buckeye bullpen, the pitching staff has done their part to give Ohio State a chance to win each of the last eight games. They’ve done more than give Ohio State a chance to win, with an ERA of 1.45 spanning 37 innings over their last eight games.

Where the outlook appeared as bleak as it could be, suddenly the possibilities of what if are afloat, giving new hope for the final month of the season. If Wimmers is able to come back at full strength in time for the Big Ten Tournament, you have an All-American ace, a solid number two capable of giving eight great innings, and bullpen that can shut the door.

Of course the Buckeyes still have work to do to ensure a berth to postseason play, but if Ohio State’s much maligned pitching corp can rise to the occasion and deliver, there’s no telling what the Buckeyes as a team can do.


Powerdog18 said...

Explain to me why Bob Todd did not use the bullpen last Friday night when Rucinski was at 110 pitches after 8 innings. It makes no sense, what a wasted chance.

BaseballBucks33 said...

I agree with you,i thought Eric Best would have been in for the 9th inning too. The thing i did not like was walking the bases loaded with only 1 out. I understand he was looking for the double play but that is hard to get at that point.
The bottom line is that if we had scored more runs it would have not matter at all. Those gosh darn DP have killed us all year long and Friday was the worst!!

Anonymous said...

haha~ funny! thank you for your share~ ........................................

Powerdog18 said...

Relief pitchers have done a good job lately. We still need someone to step up to shutdown an inning; several inherited runners have scored on relief pitchers during conference play. Reliever stats don’t always tell the whole story. I think Minimum has been the best, he shut down Michigan State with no outs and bases loaded.