Luke Sinnard hates hitters.
That's what Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said the team's pitching coach, Dustin Glant, voiced in the opening weeks of fall camp. One month into the regular season, Sinnard's grudge is apparent. The soft-spoken 6-foot-8 sophomore bests hitters with his 92 mph fastball, cutter, and puts them away with either his splitter or cruel curveball.
Through Sinnard's five starts, the right-hander has struck out 39 batters in 27 innings. That's an average of 13 strikeouts per nine innings. And, just this past Friday, Sinnard struck out a career-high 13 batters — needing just six innings — during Indiana's 5-4 walk-off victory over Morehead State University. The coaching staff pulled Sinnard at 85 pitches.
"I tried to go back out there, and I got told no," Sinnard said on Friday. "Maybe because I got moved up a day, went 84 last week, went 85 this week, and they didn't want to push it, in the cold too."
Sinnard struck out six consecutive Morehead State batters to begin Friday's game, exiting only three strikeouts away from tying the team's single-game strikeout record. Though, once landing above double-digits, it's likely easy to lose track.
"Honestly, I had no idea how many strikeouts I had," Sinnard said before briefly pausing. "But, it would have been cool to go and get that."
Behind Sinnard's gentle demeanor and slow-spoken answers, stands an unrelenting pitcher unafraid of throwing pitches inside to jam hitters or backing them off the plate to set up the outside cutter, Mercer said. Even after allowing a two-run home run in Friday's outing, Sinnard swiftly cleared his memory, eager to go after the next couple of batters, retiring them both.
"He is constantly attacking, constantly," Mercer said. "He is uber-competitive, and now he's confident. The guy homers, and it's like bang, bang, strikeout, strikeout, inning over. Well, you see guys all the time; it's like a guy homers, 'oh poor, pity me, I can't believe he did that.' ... Just finish the inning, and we'll move on. It'll be fine. And that's what (Sinnard) does."
Considering Indiana lost last year's starting pitchers, Jack Perkins and Bradley Brehmer, to Major League Baseball's Draft, Mercer's acquisition of transfer Sinnard has not only plugged starting rotation holes, but has yielded victories over southern schools like Auburn and Texas. Sinnard has likewise pitched in wins over Georgetown, Bellarmine and Morehead State.
Last year pitching for Western Kentucky, Sinnard had the best outing of his freshman season against Bellarmine. That game marked Sinnnard's final start of the season, pitching six innings and allowing just one run, while striking out a then-career-high five batters. Overall though, Sinnard allowed 21 runs in about 26 innings that year. Mercer, of course, was aware.
"It wasn't like he had these incredible numbers," Mercer said. "But the physicality, the profile and the metrics — we changed his pitch usages. So, it was a conversation halfway through the fall. Coach Glant brought him in, and we were talking beforehand and just said ‘I don't know if you know this or not but you're incredible. You have an opportunity to be special.’”
Mercer said Sinnard wasn't a super high-profile pitcher in the portal. The coaching staff was drawn to the spin rate of his pitches, wanting to target players that, after some adjustments, could vastly improve their on-field production. Mercer also said the sophomore has transformed his body, losing 15 pounds of fat while gaining 20 pounds of muscle.
"Luke didn't know he was good," Mercer said. "You could start to see a confidence build in him. It was like, ‘No, you're right. I am really good.’ Once it was going, it was like a bowling ball butcher knife downhill. Now, he's an unstoppable force for us."
Indiana has yet to lose one game that Sinnard has pitched. That's paramount as the team soon encounters other aces in the Big Ten conference, such as Ohio State's Isaiah Coupet next weekend, who holds a near-one earned run average in 25 innings.
Still, Sinnard won’t shy away. Mercer said Sinnard would’ve thrown 115 pitches in Friday's outing had the coaching staff let him.
"I would say the trademark for Luke is his mentality," Mercer said. “He is aggressive. He's going to come at you."