BLOOMINGTON, IN- It’s no secret that Indiana has been looking for some answers in their starting rotation, particularly in the third spot, where Andrew Saalfrank has been struggling.
This Sunday, in the Hoosiers’ 1-1 tie against Nebraska, sophomore Pauly Milto provided one.
In 6.1 innings, he gave up seven hits and one run with no walks and five strikeouts. He wasn’t untouchable by any means, but he didn’t beat himself, and for the most part, he did a fantastic job of working his way out of trouble when he faced it.
“Pauly was great,” said Indiana head coach Chris Lemonis. “I thought that was the best he’s thrown in our program. I’m excited for that, to see him pitch and command the zone. He just had good stuff all day.”
This performance was actually somewhat reminiscent of what he did in relief last weekend against Northwestern, when Saalfrank only threw one-third of an inning. In that game, Milto tossed 6.1 innings, giving up seven hits and no runs with no walks and seven strikeouts, serving as something of an audition for the role he played against Nebraska as a weekend starter.
It still feels like it’s going to be a work in progress as the Hoosiers continue to move through Big Ten play, but the mound performances this weekend suggested that maybe IU has found the right trio on the weekends.
On Friday, Jonathan Stiever, bouncing back from a tough start at Northwestern, threw 6.1 innings, giving up seven hits and three runs (two earned) with no walks and four strikeouts. In Saturday’s game, Brian Hobbie tossed six innings, giving up seven hits and three runs (two earned) with one walk and three strikeouts.
“In pitching, your Friday night guy is huge,” said Lemonis of the state of his starting rotation. “One, to help you win, and two, he kind of lines it out for everybody else on the weekend. We haven’t had our true Friday night guy for about four or five weeks, so Jon throws well, and Brian throws well. It’s kind of like ducks, they all line up in a row.”
Sowers Shows Signs of Breaking Out
It hasn’t been an easy 2017 season for Indiana outfielder Logan Sowers, who was looked at as one of the best prospects in the Big Ten coming into the season and as the type of player who could potentially contend to be the Big Ten Player of the Year.
But coming into Sunday’s finale, he was still mired in what has been a season-long slump and was 0-for-7 in the two games so far in the series.
Perhaps, then, his 3-for-5 day on Sunday is just what he needs to really get going. In the bottom of the sixth, he launched a double over the head of center fielder Luis Alvarado, bringing in the first (and only) Indiana run of the game. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, he burned Alvarado again for yet another double. Both balls were absolutely stung, showing off the power that anyone with eyes can see that Sowers possesses.
“I was really just trying to stay on time,” Sowers said of his approach on Sunday. “They’ve been pitching me in a lot, so I was just trying to get my foot down early, stay in rhythm, and just put a good swing on the ball.”
Beyond just this single game, he’s now been able to cluster a few good games together over a short period of time. In the last game of the Northwestern series, he had three hits and five RBI, and then followed that up with a two-hit game with three runs scored in the midweek against Evansville.
If he can establish some consistency, a middle of the order featuring Craig Dedelow, Luke Miller, Matt Lloyd, and Sowers is suddenly as good as just about any in the Big Ten, even if this weekend wasn’t the best evidence for that being the case.
Hoosiers Bullpen Depth on Display All Weekend
Perhaps in part because they’ve had their fair share of short starts this season and they’ve had to do some mixing and matching in the rotation, Indiana has developed a pretty deep, effective bullpen corps, and that was on display this weekend, particularly in the last two games of the series.
On Saturday, in relief of Hobbie, Cal Krueger threw three scoreless innings, lowering his season ERA to 1.31 over 20.2 innings of work. On Sunday, Austin Foote, redeeming himself for the run he surrendered on Friday night in two-thirds of an inning, tossed a scoreless inning, lowering his ERA to 1.93, before giving way to two-way player Matt Lloyd, who threw 3.2 innings of scoreless baseball, giving up just one hit and one walk to lower his season ERA to 2.03.
Certainly, Lloyd’s effort didn’t go unnoticed by Lemonis.
“He’s been good,” Lemonis said. “I thought he just commanded the zone, and pitched, and held their guys down.”
B.J. Sabol had a tough game on Friday against the Huskers, but he’s been fantastic overall, with a 2.76 ERA (it was 1.17 prior to Friday), a 15/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .203 opponent batting average. Cameron Beauchamp didn’t appear in the weekend series at all, but he’s also been solid. He did surrender three earned runs to Indiana State in just two-thirds of an inning during the midweek, but prior to that, he had been sporting an ERA under 1.00.
Even if the Indiana starting rotation continues to struggle from time-to-time, a deep, talented Hoosiers bullpen can be leaned upon to bail them out.