Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics
With the Big Ten Tournament starting today for Ohio State baseball (25-25, 13-11 Big Ten), the Buckeyes will give the ball to senior pitcher Drew Rucinski.
Rucinski has been OSU’s No. 1 starter this season, posting a 5-3 record and finishing third in the Big Ten with a 2.88 ERA.
He was recently named to the All-Big Ten second-team along with first baseman Josh Dezse.
The Buckeyes enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed and take on No. 5 seed Minnesota. If the Buckeyes are to win game one and avoid the losers’ bracket, they will need another strong outing from Rucinski.
Coach Greg Beals said Rucinski has been an ace for OSU, and that’s what it needs him to be against Minnesota.
“We just need Drew to be Drew,” Beals said. “He’s had one bad start all year long … so we just want him to go out and be himself and execute his pitch quality like he’s done all year long.”
OSU won two of three games against the Gophers last weekend in the conference series finale. The game they lost was the one Rucinski started.
Rucinski threw eight innings, giving up only three earned runs on three hits.
Fellow senior and co-captain outfielder Brian DeLucia said Rucinski has pitched well in series openers.
“I’m actually excited to see what he’s going to do against Minnesota again,” DeLucia said. “He knows all the hitters and the hitters know him, so it’s going to be a battle.”
The Big Ten Tournament’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid could be OSU’s ticket to the postseason, and Rucinski said he believes the team can win the conference.
“If we throw the ball well, our offense does its job and the defense plays well, we always got a shot to win it,” Rucinski said. “Hopefully we stay hot and keep doing it.”
As for the pressure Rucinski faces going into the game, he said nothing changes with the way he prepares for a start.
“Every start’s a big one, I feel like,” Rucinski said. “You want to give your team the best shot you possibly can. You go out there, throw strikes, don’t give anything away free, make them earn it, and let the defense work behind you.”
The relievers, such as redshirt junior reliever Andrew Armstrong, said they have faith their starter can get the job done.
“It will get us off to a good start if he does well,” Armstrong said. “If he pitches long enough and pitches enough innings for us then it will keep our bullpen ready for the next couple of days as well.”
If the bullpen isn’t overworked in the first game, it will be fresher later on.
“The longer your starters can go, the better your bullpen is,” said pitching coach Mike Stafford. “If your starters don’t go that long — four innings, five innings — you got to have four more innings with your bullpen. The longer your starters go in the game, the stronger your bullpen becomes.”
Stafford said Rucinski could pitch again later in the tournament.
“His arm comes back pretty quick,” Stafford said. “Being a senior, being a Friday guy and preparing him for this moment, we feel like we’ve managed him enough where he can come back in three days and throw pretty well.”
Senior infielder Tyler Engle summed up his team’s trust in Rucinski.
“He’s our anchor and we’re all confident in him,” Engle said. “Let’s hope he’s confident in himself like he usually is. If he comes out and throws his game, we will be tough to beat.”