Indiana's turbulent beginning to the 2016 baseball campaign remained bumpy over the weekend at the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida as the Hoosiers dropped two games to Seton Hall, including one extra innings affair, dropping their record to 0-4 in extra innings games. But Indiana did pick up a win between the losses to the Pirates against Illinois State and then capped the weekend off with a win against Butler.
The brightest note of the weekend was Kyle Hart's performance on the mound. Hart bounced back from a rough outing against Cal State Fullerton last weekend, allowing just three hits in 6.0 IP against Illinois State, striking out 10 and holding the Redbirds scoreless on his way to earning co-Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors.
Caleb Baragar could have very well have been the recipient as well, as the lefty gave up just three hits in 7.0 IP against Butler. But he failed to earn the win after Kent Williams gave up a run in the 8th tying the game at one. Thomas Belcher was credited with the win for pitching the Top of the 9th before Isaiah Pasteur reached by error in the bottom half and Colby Stratten scored from second.
Against Seton Hall, however, mistakes that have crippled the Hoosiers early in the season were present again. As I noted last week, Indiana has struggled late in ballgames, and through six contests had been outscored 13-2 from the 6th inning on. The story was no different in either matchup with Seton Hall.
In the opener, Indiana gave up six runs after the end of the 5th while pushing just one across themselves before losing 7-2. In the second game with the Pirates, Indiana took a 3-0 lead into the 6th, but gave up three in that inning and another in the 7th. The Hoosiers tied the game in the 9th, but gave up two more in the 10th and lost 6-4.
1. Jake Kelzer as closer has been something, we're just not sure what.
Chris Lemonis gave up one of his best starters when he made Jake Kelzer the closer, but we now know that he imagines him being a Scott Effross-like guy out of the pen. Through three appearances (all Hoosier losses), Kelzer has thrown 10.2 IP. But he isn't getting Effross-like results thus far. Even though Kelzer sports a 1.69 ERA, he's given up another two unearned runs and has a WHIP well over 1.000 while account for two losses and zero saves. Of course, it's hard to rack up saves when the bullpen can't get you the game with the lead.
2. Ryan Fineman is going to be critical to winning. Demetrius Webb has started four of the Hoosiers' 10 games, but has only recorded nine at-bats and exactly zero hits. Fineman, however, has started his freshman campaign with 11 hits in his first 26 at-bats (.426) and has, in my mind at least, made it clear that there is one choice, and once choice only, at catcher. And until Brian Wilhite (.135), Isaiah Pasteur (.229), and Austin Cangelosi (.167) start hitting like veterans need to hit, Fineman, along with fellow newcomer Luke Miller (.310), will have to carry the load.
3. The rest of the non-conference needs to be dang near perfect. They're going to drop some midweek games, so I'm not talking about when they play Kentucky or Evansville on a Tuesday. I'm talking about the 13 non-conference series games remaining (Western Carolina, Toledo, Indiana State, rutger). The Hoosiers still have a pitifully weak conference slate ahead of them, and they'll have plenty of opportunity to win enough Big Ten games to make their mark. But not many Big Ten teams are going to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the NCAA bubble. Losses to bad teams happen in baseball. But Indiana is not 3-4 against bad teams and 0-3 against formidable opponents. And the schedule only gives them a chance to play, at most, nine or 10 more games against quality teams that will make pushes for the NCAA tournament (without winning a conference tournament). So it is critical for the Hoosiers to take care of business with the mid-majors they're set to face in the coming weeks.