Fresh off an 8-6 midweek victory over Xavier University and a sweep of Northwestern, Indiana baseball hosts Purdue in the latest chapter of a historic rivalry.
The Hoosiers return to Bart Kaufman Field with a 35-14 record this season. They are second in the Big Ten with a 12-6 conference record and are 22-4 at home. Three of those four losses came when Indiana was swept by Maryland April 28-30.
Purdue’s winning percentage hovers around .500 entering this series. The Boilermakers are 23-24 this season, sporting stark home-road splits. They are 4-12 away from home and currently hold a 10-8 conference record that sees them in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Big Ten.
Purdue most recently dropped a midweek game at the University of Illinois at Chicago and took two out of three games versus South Dakota State University last weekend.
Indiana leads Purdue in the all-time series 152-136-2, dating back to 1897. Of the 290 games played, 82 have been decided by one run and the Hoosiers hold a 42-40 edge in such contests.
After Luke Sinnard’s strong Friday start at Northwestern, Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said Thursday, May 11, the sophomore right-handed pitcher will once more toe the slab for Friday’s series opener against Purdue. Sinnard is the only Indiana pitcher guaranteed to start this weekend.
Mercer said that there are no set starters for Saturday or Sunday, but sophomore left-handed pitcher Ryan Kraft may start one of the two vacant games. Kraft pitched a career-high 7 ⅓ innings in Indiana’s 5-2 series-clinching victory at Northwestern. The sophomore didn’t surrender an earned run in that outing, while striking out seven Wildcat hitters. Mercer said if Sinnard’s Friday start is cut short Kraft will be called upon from the bullpen.
“Try to win Friday on Friday, and then move forward,” Mercer said. “It’s nice to have that security blanket, to know that you can roll out one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten and go win (Friday’s) game right now.”
The consequence of using strong arms early in a series is that Indiana’s offense may need to plate more runs in support of the pitching staff on Sunday, which is something the Hoosiers have done well this season.
“You’ve just got to trust your offense,” Mercer said.
Mercer pointed out the 22 runs scored in the series-clincher at Penn State on April 2 and the 16-3 win in the series finale at Illinois on April 15 as examples of times when the bats have put up crooked numbers on days where the pitching staff is worn down.
Purdue’s rotation is led by sophomore right-handed pitcher Khal Stephen, who has posted a 7-2 record, a 3.93 earned run average and has held opposing hitters to a sub-.225 batting average in 66 ⅓ innings this season. Stephen is slated to start opposite Sinnard Friday.
“He’s going to throw hard and be competitive,” Mercer said. “They’re going to do what every Big Ten pitching staff does. When you're in conference games, the stuff is a little bit better.”
Mercer said Indiana’s offensive success is predicated on timely adjustments. The Hoosiers find themselves on the back foot when they fail to adapt to stout pitching.
“Can we adjust, or do we take two or three innings to adjust,” Mercer said. “They’re not going to invent a new pitch in the next 24 hours.”
The Hoosiers were swept at home for the first time since 2011 when they fell to Maryland in the final weekend of April. Mercer said the team faltered because of uncontrolled emotions and poor body language. This weekend will be just as contentious.
“Any time Indiana plays Purdue, it’s going to be contentious and heated,” Mercer said.
Friday's game will be headlined by a celebration of newly inducted Baseball Hall of Fame member and current director of Indiana’s player development Scott Rolen. Saturday is senior day.
"The biggest thing for our guys is, (it’s) just another weekend,” Indiana senior shortstop Phillip Glasser said on Thursday. “We’ve just got to go out there and play like we have throughout the whole year.”
“I try not to get too high or too low with (the players) because there will be times when emotions run high, and you’re trying to keep them in the middle,” Mercer said.
The next chapter in the Indiana-Purdue rivalry will be written this weekend. The series opener is slated for 6 p.m. Friday and will be followed by a 1 p.m. game on Saturday and a noon series finale on Sunday. All three games will be streamed on Big Ten Plus.
“(The rivalry) means a lot to a lot of people,” Glasser said. “Being able to put on a Hoosiers jersey and making sure you play hard for everyone who supports you is very special for us.”
Follow reporters Matthew Byrne (@MatthewByrne1) and Nick Rodecap (@nickrodecap) for updates throughout the Indiana baseball season.