IU sophomore pitcher Gabe Bierman just wants to have fun.
In the Saturday night game against the University of San Diego, Bierman started pregame dances and dressed in absurd costumes with rally caps and wore sunglasses in the dark. He was the first one out to the plate to greet teammates who just scored. He was out in front of the dugout while his team was hitting, leading dugout cheers and trying to hype up his teammates.
“It’s just the kind of personality I am,” Bierman said. “I want to keep the energy alive in the dugout. It rattles the pitchers a little bit.”
Bierman’s high-energy cheerleading was present no matter how much the offense struggled in what would be a 6-2 loss that night. It has also been just as present in the games where IU’s offense has surged, such as during the 17-2 win over Purdue on March 4. His position out in front of the team is just a glimpse at the leader he's become — and it’s just his second year with the Hoosiers.
But Bierman's leadership extends to more than just fun antics. He has emerged as the top pitcher in IU’s rotation.
“He’s worked to master his craft,” IU head coach Jeff Mercer said. “He didn’t have the change up that he does before. He didn’t have the slider, didn’t have the velocity. All those things allow his stuff to continue to grow.”
Finding a top guy in the IU rotation hasn’t been a problem in recent years. But when Pauly Milto graduated after last season, there was a hole to fill. And that’s where Bierman has stepped in.
As a freshman, Bierman went 4-0 in 20 appearances. He started five times, had two saves and struck out 46 batters in 48 innings. His best performance came in relief against Michigan where he struck out eight batters in three innings and secured a crucial win during a Big Ten title-winning season.
He didn’t pitch a large number of innings, but the potential was clear. In year two, Bierman is putting everything together.
Bierman began the 2020 season as the second starter. He’d never pitched more than five innings in a game until his Feb. 22 start against the University of South Alabama, where he staked his place as IU’s best pitcher.
Bierman pitched 6 2/3 innings that game, striking out 11 batters and not allowing an earned run in the win.
From that start, Bierman took over at the top of IU’s rotation. He started again Feb. 28 against then-No. 17 East Carolina University and allowed two earned runs while striking out six batters in an IU win.
He pitched 6 1/3 innings against San Diego in the series opener Saturday, allowing one earned run and striking out five batters.
Bierman is 2-1 this season with the lone loss coming against then-No.11 Louisiana State University. He’s struck out 24 batters in 22 innings. He’s allowed just six earned runs.
The jump Bierman has made in his sophomore year is partially attributed to his developing changeup, both he and Mercer said. Bierman said he didn’t have a good command of the pitch in high school, but he’s learned it in college, even if that meant just throwing the ball casually, outside of a game-setting.
“When we’re playing catch it's very important to get a feel of it,” Bierman said of his changeup. “As I threw it more it got better and better. It’s become a weapon for me.”
Bierman said he thinks of himself as a ground ball pitcher. He relies on his sinker, changeup and slider. As the season has progressed, the defense behind him has cut down on errors and given him more confidence.
Bierman has also made improvements in the weight room. Mercer says Bierman has gained 40 pounds. Mercer said Bierman is committed to his diet and nutrition as well.
By combining the work Bierman has put on his repertoire of pitches and time in the weight room together, he's jumped to the top of IU’s staff.
And with the dancing and costumes on the side, he’s having fun doing it.