The opening weeks of the 2018 season will be a learning opportunity for IU.
Trips to South Carolina, Florida and California highlight the first three weekends of the season for the Hoosiers. Coach Chris Lemonis will use a stretch of 11 games away from Bloomington to start the season to experiment with his team’s lineup, and in particular with his team’s starting pitching rotation.
In terms of innings pitched, IU returns its top 10 pitchers from a season ago, although the starting rotation isn’t set in stone for this season.
Lemonis listed seven players who are options for IU to begin the season as starters.
“We just have to figure out who we’re going to use in those first couple spots,” Lemonis said. “I think our depth there is one of the strengths of our team.”
Sophomores Cameron Beauchamp and Andrew Saalfrank are a pair of left-handed pitchers looking to continue their progression following strong starts to their college careers.
Beauchamp was mainly used out of the bullpen last season, as only two of his 17 total appearances came in starts. Control was an issue for him last season, as he walked 20 batters and threw eight wild pitches in 21.1 innings pitched.
He was one of seven Hoosier players to spend the summer playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League, a summer league for college players on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
Conversely, Saalfrank is more accustomed to a starting role, with eight of his 16 appearances in 2017 coming as starts. Saalfrank led the team with 10 wild pitches, but he had better overall control as he issued just 17 walks in 40.1 innings.
Opponents frequently had success against the left-hander, though, as batters hit for a .314 average against him.
Saalfrank also used last summer as a chance to fine-tune his pitching in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League with the Amsterdam (New York) Mohawks.
This year’s lone freshman mentioned as a potential starter by Lemonis, right-hander Connor Manous, is an in-state product from Munster, Indiana.
Formerly of the University of Miami, Manous has a good curveball and is a ground-ball pitcher with his fastball, according to his recruiting profile at Perfect Game USA.
Among IU’s upperclassmen, senior Brian Hobbie and junior Tim Herrin figure to be reliable pitchers for Lemonis in whatever role is designated for them.
After pitching less than 30 combined innings in 2015 and 2016, Hobbie took on a heavier workload last season with 65.1 innings tossed.
The results were mixed. While Hobbie did record two complete games and walked only 14 batters, his 6.61 ERA was the highest among players with more than nine pitching appearances for IU.
Opposing hitters also batted for a .327 average against Hobbie, the highest percentage against any Hoosier starter as well.
Just like Hobbie, Herrin expanded his workload dramatically last season. The left-handed pitcher from Terre Haute, Indiana, went from four appearances and three innings pitched in 2016 to 20 appearances and 53 innings pitched in 2017.
Herrin’s 3.91 ERA was a positive sign regarding his use as a starter, and he also spent last summer on Cape Cod with sophomore pitcher Cal Krueger on the Harwich Mariners.
But when looking at IU’s prospective starters, juniors Pauly Milto and Jonathan Stiever will likely be the backbone of the rotation.
Milto’s 78 innings pitched and Stiever’s 77.1 innings pitched were the two highest totals among Hoosier pitchers last season. The duo combined for 24 starts and 34 total appearances in 2017, with all 14 of Stiever’s appearances being starts.
The two pitchers were also first and second on the team in strikeouts, with Milto fanning 65 batters and Stiever retiring 57 batters at the plate.
“We had Pauly in the bullpen last year, and obviously he was a lot better as a starter,” Lemonis said. “Just vice-versa on some other kids, but having pitching experience and depth makes you sleep a little better at night.”
Following their sophomore seasons, Milto and Stiever both spent the summer on the same Cape Cod Baseball League team — the Brewster Whitecaps.
According to Lemonis, the experience allowed IU’s top returning pitchers to continue to mature and gain confidence.
“They’ve both made little jumps. We’re excited about that,” Lemonis said. “I think they’re confident in their roles now and ready for the season.”
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