As students are beginning to wrap up their final days of the spring semester, the Ohio State baseball team prepares to wrap up their homestand with their second-to-last home weekend series of the season against Nebraska.
The Buckeyes haven’t had the home-field advantage at Bill Davis Stadium they had hoped for with just a 5-11 home record to show. Comparatively, OSU is 6-8 on the road and 5-5 at neutral sites.
OSU coach Greg Beals said there’s not a lot to point to when examining why his team hasn’t found the same level of success that saw his team post a 23-4 record at home last season beyond the difference in on-field personnel.
“There’s a lot of different players in that locker room, very different opponents that we’re playing and obviously we’d like to be playing better at home, but I don’t think there’s a pinpoint on that,” Beals said.
Sitting at third in the Big Ten standings after winning last weekend’s series against Minnesota 2-1, Nebraska has emerged as one of the top teams in the conference this season, based largely on the strength of its pitching staff.
Nebraska’s offense has not been the driving force for the team’s success this season, but it has proven effective. The team currently ranks seventh in the Big Ten in batting average (.270) and eighth in runs scored (215). However, hits are about all the team has been able to come up with this season. They rank last in the Big Ten in home runs (15) and second-to-last in stolen bases (31), proving to be a more one-dimensional offense.
But with a pitching staff as reliable as Nebraska’s, they only need to score so many runs to win games. Their pitching staff currently ranks second in the Big Ten in ERA (3.39) and fourth in opponents’ batting average (.254). And while their 262 strikeouts rank only 10th in the Big Ten, the staff has balanced the lack of strikeouts with lack of free passes, issuing only 129 walks this season (fourth in the conference).
The Cornhuskers will bring to the series one of the most dynamic players in the Big Ten and the third two-way player OSU has faced this season — in junior Jake Meyers. As the team’s leadoff hitter, Meyers leads the team in on-base percentage at .392 and is currently tied for fifth in stolen bases in the Big Ten, going a perfect 17 for 17 in stolen base attempts.
On the mound, Meyers has been the team’s best starting pitcher despite pitching only on Sundays. His 2.91 ERA is the lowest on the team and he is the only pitcher on the staff with a complete game shutout. He also leads the team in innings pitched (55.2), strikeouts (35) and has issued the fewest walks of any regular starter (eight).
The struggles of Nebraska’s bats this season has led Beals to do some head-scratching when trying to figure out how exactly the Cornhuskers have found as much success as they have.
“The offensive side as far as their actual game plan, I still haven’t figured out exactly,” Beals said. “I’m going to do some more work on that because they don’t have a ton of sacrifice bunts, they don’t have a ton of stolen bases other than Meyers.”
Beals added though that while the bats have not stood out, it is clear this team plays solid defense and pitches the ball well.
“Their team ERA is like 3.36 so you don’t have a sub-3.50 ERA if you’re not playing good defense,” Beals said. “So they’re going to force us to earn things offensively, and that’s what good teams do.”
Pair of freshmen embracing starting roles
Freshmen Dominic Canzone and Conner Pohl did not enter this season as starters for OSU, but they have made their marks on the roster as of late, emerging as two of the most consistent bats in the lineup.
Canzone, named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the week of April 3 to April 10, went from one of the team’s coldest bats to start the season to a middle-of-the-order presence for the team.
The Buckeyes’ starting right fielder began his collegiate career 3 for 29, but has since gone on a tear with 31 hits over his past 69 at-bats. Canzone has also stolen seven bases, launched two home runs and has posted a .449/.487/.638 slash line. Since March 12, only senior shortstop Jalen Washington (18) has more RBIs than Canzone (17).
Though Canzone has been the standout freshman, second baseman Conner Pohl has quietly been producing on his own. Pohl has started five of the team’s last seven games at second, and in those past seven games, he is slashing .416/.416/.583 with 10 hits in 24 at-bats, four of those hits going for extra bases.
Senior co-captain and shortstop Jalen Washington said he has been impressed by how the young hitters have stepped up for the team and how they have progressed throughout the year.
“They’ve been just competing and that’s all we can ask from them as freshmen,” Washington said. “Dom(inic) for sure has been carrying us offensively a little bit and he’s stepped into that role very well. Conner Pohl is someone who’s always swung it well and — defense at times, we just need a little more consistency out of him, but we really like the way he’s been swinging the bat.”
Post returns on Saturday, Niemeyer progressing for midweek start
The Buckeyes’ rotation has been hit with a slew of injuries to begin the season, but it looks like they are all starting to return back to full health.
Redshirt senior starting pitcher Jake Post was hit by a line drive to the head in his last time out against Michigan State, and the injury forced him to miss last weekend’s start against UNC Greensboro. But the team’s ace will be returning to action on Saturday against Nebraska, and he said he is just ready to head out there and compete.
“I took a week off, had some concussion-like symptoms, but it’s all good,” Post said. “I’ve been good for about a week. I’m not worried, I just want to go out there and compete.”
Redshirt junior starting pitcher Adam Niemeyer, however, will continue to be out this weekend. He is recovering from tendonitis in his elbow, but Beals said he is progressing towards a possible start next week against Texas Tech in one of the two midweek games.
“He is going to throw live today to hitters for the first time since his injury,” Beals said. “The idea is that he’s pretty much ready to compete. We want him to face batters before we just run him out there, so he’s going to do that today with the hopes of possibly pitching next midweek.”
The Buckeyes will send redshirt junior Yianni Pavlopoulos to the mound on Friday at 6:35 p.m. in the opener for their weekend series against Nebraska.