Sophomore Tommy Sommer’s six strong innings for IU baseball Tuesday against Ball State University showed more than just what he brings to the mound.
Rather, it showed just how deep IU’s pitching rotation can be when healthy and consistent.
The health trouble comes from Sommer’s end. A meniscus tear kept him out for more than a month and left a void in IU’s Sunday starter role.
But since returning, Sommer has continued right where he left off. The lefty from Carmel, Indiana, gave up no runs in eight innings across two outings ahead of Tuesday’s start.
“It’s recovered well, just a little bit of swelling afterwards,” Sommer said. “But nothing major, no pain or anything like that.”
On Tuesday, he continued the impressive comeback with his first start since the injury, throwing a career-high 10 strikeouts while giving up two runs against the Cardinals.
“How you do some things, is how you do everything,” IU Coach Jeff Mercer said. “That’s why Tommy is excellent. Because Tommy does everything right. Everything. His diet, his nutrition, his leadership. His everything is excellent, so I’m not surprised to see him go out and do those things.”
The consistency concerns come with the man who took Sommer’s Sunday slot, junior Andrew Saalfrank.
Saalfrank struggled with consistency in his first two seasons with IU and was shaky at the beginning of his tenure in Sommer’s role on Sundays.
His first three starts included two starts that were each shorter four innings sandwiching a seven-inning performance against Canisius College.
Since then, Saalfrank has been nothing but dominant. In his previous three starts, Saalfrank has thrown 20.2 innings while striking out 38 batters in the process.
“When I went down, Saalfrank really stepped up and has taken that strong hold of our strong Sunday starter,” Sommer said.
Sommer and Saalfrank anchor a starting rotation that features Big Ten Pitcher of the Year candidate senior Pauly Milto and junior Tanner Gordon.
Milto has a 5-3 record this season to go along with a 1.98 earned run average, and Gordon has had just one game since March 10 in which he has given up multiple runs.
“Pauly and Tanner, obviously, just go out there and do their thing every single week,” Sommer said. “You don’t have to worry about them at all. To have those guys hold the rotation while I was gone has been phenomenal."
Behind this starting rotation, the nation’s top home run-hitting offense and a 25-12 record, IU could be on its way to another deep postseason run.
“The starting pitching development was an expectation, and it’s coming to fruition,” Mercer said. “We’re very confident and very excited, and certainly very proud. Just because it’s an expectation doesn’t mean it’s going to happen all the time.”
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