Manager Chris Lemonis has to be proud of his team's effort in overcoming a mountain of adversity on Tuesday. Indiana was coming off its first weekend on the wrong end of a sweep in two seasons. The Hoosiers needed a fast start, but instead they got what has become a typical outing from Christian Morris. And in the Top of the 3rd, they lost Austin Cangelosi, the team's hottest hitter over the last month, to a sprained ankle.
But the Hoosiers stopped the bleeding over the last few innings and got back to their winning ways.
Morris struggled again on Tuesday, only getting through 2.1 innings and allowing six earned runs. But, as they have on multiple occasions over the past several weeks, the bullpen and the bats saved Morris from suffering his first loss of the season.
In 6.2 innings of relief, the bullpen allowed just one Kentucky run (and that run was given up by starter Scott Effross, who performed rare relief duties.) And the Indiana bats came alive, over the last few innings to give Indiana an 11-7 win. The 11 runs were the most the Hoosiers have scored since the 16-1 beatdown of Ball State on March 8.
After tying the game behind two runs in the 7th, Indiana took its second and final lead of the game in the 8th off a 2-run HR by Brad Hartong, his first of the season. And in the 9th, freshman Logan Sowers got in on the action and hit a bomb over the scoreboard to make it 11-7.
What did we learn?
1. The leadoff spot may be cursed. Lemonis tinkered with the lineup on Tuesday, moving Craig Dedelow, the team's leader in batting average and on-base percentage (min. 50 at-bats), to the leadoff spot. Dedelow went 0-for-6 and failed to reach base.
The leadoff spot has been an issue for Indiana over the last several games, with Casey Rodrigue and Laren Eustace combining to go just 3-for-20 in the leadoff spot in Indiana's first five Big Ten games and 5-for-26 since the end of the Fullerton series. After the Kentucky game, that number is not 5-for-31 with just three walks.
Personally, I prefer to see Rodrigue in the leadoff spot with Dedelow protecting him. But I certainly understand Lemonis trying anything he can to get more runners on for Hartong, Donley, and Cangelosi.
2. Big decisions loom about the starting rotation. Effross was atrocious on Sunday, but it was his first true start since returning from injury and he isn't leaving the rotation. But Morris has been bad for at least a full month now, and there's too much pitching depth to keep throwing him and the reward being spotting the opposition five runs and the bullpen entering in the 3rd inning.
Lemonis hasn't lost confidence in Morris, telling the press pool yesterday, "[He] was OK. He’s fighting it a little bit. He’s a great pitcher, we have a lot of confidence in him. I’ve told him we need him to be great at the end of the year.”
“[The game] is kind of fighting him right now. A little bit of bad luck, and then he needs to probably pitch a little bit better too.”
But if for no other reason than to give Morris a little time off to clear his head, one of a few guys probably deserve a spot start sometime soon. There are still question marks surrounding Kyle Hart given that he's only made one appearance since Tommy John surgery, but it wouldn't be a shock to see him get a weekday start. And it can't hurt. Think of it this way: In his only start, he gave IU 2.0 IP and gave up nothing. Morris, yesterday, gave IU 2.1 IP and gave up six runs.
Brian Hobbie may be the logical choice. He's been solid all year and his previous start warrants another attempt. But, if for no reason other than personal bias, I vote for Will Coursen-Carr. His stuff is nasty and when he hits his spots like he did his freshman year, he's the best starter on the team. Maybe not in a conference game this weekend considering that the Hoosiers are already three games out of first place, but it's time to give Coursen-Carr another opportunity.
3. Good and bad news for the offense. We'll start with the good. Logan Sowers got it going in Lexington. He was 3-for-5 with a HR and 3 RBIs. More of the same is exactly what the struggling offense needs. This is what we envisioned from him at the beginning of the year. But Lemonis says this isn't the ceiling.
"There’s a lot of strength in there. I tell guys all the time: he hasn’t even figured it totally out yet," Lemnois said. "When he does, it’s going to be scary. Swing-wise, he’s still got a little bit of growing to do, but he’s just so good, and very mature for a freshman."
But the offense also suffered a setback when Cangelosi sprained his ankle in the 3rd inning. Lemonis wasn't sure how it would affect his availability moving forward, but was confident that the team would be fine. "He sprained his ankle, so we’ll see. He got it pretty good. We’ll just evaluate him tomorrow and do the best we can. We’ve been next guy up all year, so. It’s been a little challenging, but we’ll keep it going.”"
Indiana hosts Michigan at Bart Kaufman Field this weekend. Later this week, look for a preview of that series and a midseason report card for the Hoosiers.